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As she unpacks in her new bedroom, Ella is irresistibly drawn to the big old house that she can see out of her window. Surrounded by overgrown gardens, barbed wire fences, and "keep out" signs, it looks derelict.
But that night, a light goes on in one of the windows. And the next day she sees a girl in the grounds. Ella is hooked. The house has a story to tell. She is sure of it.
Enter Thornhill, Institute for Children, and discover the dark secrets that lie within. But once inside, will you ever leave?
Forget what you think a novel should be and what it should look like. Thornhill is a story in two strands, one in pictures and one in words - working together as a whole. An extraordinary, unsettling and gripping tale for readers aged 10 and over.
The price and the weight of this volume are quite hefty, but there again it packs a lot of pages into one story and is a book I will read many times so it is important that the binding will stand up to lots of handling. The reason I will read it again is due to the quality of the images - black and white, and amazingly detailed. If pictures could talk ... but then again, they do!
Neither a graphic novel nor a prose work, this story combines the two in separate narratives that become closer as the story progresses. This is the first time I have encountered a novel with this sort of layout, but I found it very easy to follow. I read a similar book recently where the two strands were separated by the fonts used - one strand was written in roman script and the other in italic. That was actually harder to read because my eyes kept adjusting to the script. In Thornhill, the divisions could not be more obvious.
The theme of the book is that of isolation and its long term effect on a young person. Neither Mary nor Ella is alone by choice; circumstances have forced them into providing their own entertainment by pursuing an activity they enjoy. For Mary, it is crafting dolls; for Ella, it is exploring her surroundings and uncovering the mysteries they conceal. The adults in both of their lives have something to answer for as they fail in their duty to provide for their children and ensure they are happy and safe.
This is essentially a ghost story and one which over tens will enjoy if they are into this genre. It is not too scary; although the subtext is quite dark, there are no gory details included to upset a young reader. The cruelty shown by Mary's companions towards her it something any child who is familiar with bullying will recognise. The emotion generated will be sympathy for Mary rather than fear at her situation, although some readers may wonder why the grown-ups in her life were not more proactive in dealing with the bullies.
I found the ending of the book predictable, but I was left with one unanswered question - what happened to Mary? There are hints all the way through the story, but no firm indication as to the precise outcome. I think one more graphic chapter combining the stories and including a definitive explanation to wind up the mystery would have rounded it off more successfully. I still had questions after two readings, and I am no wiser. However, it is a beautifully produced work and one which as an adult I enjoyed every bit as much as a younger person would.
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