Hello Again Blogosphere!
Iseult: Heeeere’s Iseult! I’m back! Thought you could get rid of me, hey Jonny? Haha!
No, I’m thrilled to be doing another buddy read with my good friend, Jonny. When I’m not reading and reviewing books, I can be found writing horror, fantasy and science fiction.
Jonny : Haha, wouldn’t dream of it, bestie! I’m Jonny, screamaholic and YA horror author.
Buddy reads are still relatively new to me, but I’m really enjoying sharing bookish experiences with someone and comparing thoughts. It’s nice to have more conversations about books.
This week we did a buddy read of Thornhill by Pam Smy (middle grade/young adult).
Parallel plotlines, one told in text and one in art, inform each other as a young girl unravels the mystery of a ghost next door.
Mary is an orphan at the Thornhill Institute for Children at the very moment that it’s closing down for good. But when a bully goes too far, Mary’s revenge will have a lasting effect on the bully, on Mary, and on Thornhill itself.
Years later, Ella moves to a new town where she has a perfect view of the dilapidated, abandoned Thornhill Institute. Determined to befriend the mysterious, evasive girl she sees there, Ella resolves to unravel Thornhill’s history and uncover its secrets.
Ella’s story is told through striking, bold art; Mary’s is told through diary entries. Each informs the other until the two eventually intersect to reveal the truth behind Thornhill’s shadowy past, once and for all. Strikingly told and masterfully illustrated, Pam Smy bends genres and expectations alike.
Alright, so let’s get right into things! Like last time, we’ve prepared some questions that we’ll both answer, and we hope you enjoy these as much as we did!
1. Bullying is a central theme of this novel. Have you ever been bullied? Do you feel the bullying in this book was portrayed well?
Iseult: Haha! Bullies fight over which of them will get to me first! Yes, I’ve been bullied lots throughout my life. I think this book portrays it so well. So much of bullying isn’t about what’s said, but how it’s said. It’s also about destroying the victim so that they feel there is no help, no escape, no way out. I thought this book captured that threat very well. It also showed how negligent the adults were, which is sadly so often the case. I was very fortunate to be able to eventually satisfactorily resolve my bullying with help from the principals of the schools, but I know people who aren’t getting any help from the school in the case of their child’s bullying.
Jonny: Glad you were able to find a way out of that situation, Iseult. You just tell me if anyone gives you any crap. I’m very protective of my friends and also have very sharp canines.
No, but in all seriousness, I did deal with my own bullies, mainly in middle school before I embraced my redhead fury, death glare, and towering technique.
Reading this book took me back to those days. When I was fearful, when I was scared. And ultimately when I’d had enough and decided to do something about it. This novel shows us those stages in exquisite form, and I feel that anyone could relate to how Mary felt since the writing was executed to perfectly.
Though it was painful to read through in spots, the author wanted to show us this, perhaps in hopes of educating youngsters what bullying is and how it makes people feel. Aka don’t you dare do it!
2. How do you feel about the creative split point of views in this novel? (pictures for one, text for the other) Did it work for you?
Iseult: When I first got the book and flipped through the pages, I was disappointed by the split of pictures to text, however, once I started reading it, I was drawn in and loved the way the stories of the different characters were told. There is an almost cinematic quality to the pictures, zooming in on an establishing shot to show greater detail. The diary entries are brief, but more powerful because of it.
I don’t know if the story would have worked as well if it had been told in a traditional narrative. It would have still been good, but it would have lost the element of almost voyeurism that the diary and pictures provide, and that would have taken much of the realism, and therefore reduced the emotional impact.
Jonny: I think I was more surprised than anything else at first. In the first instance I flipped the pages back and forth until I noticed the calendar in the pictures that clearly states the date. Then it all made sense.
Going forward, the two POVs really worked well together. There was an element of mystery throughout the book concerning what happened with Mary, and Ella was an impromptu detective of sorts, which I really enjoyed.
The points of view definitely fed into each other. This really worked for me.
3. What feelings did this book evoke for you?
Iseult: Wow! It evoked all the feels! As a child who was the odd kid, for different reasons than Mary, and sought refuge in creativity, I could identify with Mary, perhaps too much. As an adult who has experience of children in care and how hard it is to get their voices heard, I also felt the frustration, anger and uselessness that not being able to help generates l. I also felt sad, because there were children suffering and I wanted to help them so much. Ultimately I was left chilled, because the ending made me rethink elements of the story.
Jonny: More than I thought I would experience. Going in, I just thought it would be a good read, but this book touched me. I was also a rather “odd kid”, always the creative guy who would spend hours and hours alone in his room, drawing, imagining, writing. I always got along with other kids well, but I hid my introverted side as much as I could because I was scared of being different.
I related with Mary so strongly I feel that pretty much sealed how the book was going to go for me.
There were so many emotions going on. Bits where I felt sad for Mary, parts where I felt proud of her for finding relief (even if temporary) in her situation, and obviously outrage and shock at what others had put this girl through without any repercussions. This book was really something special because of how it invokes these emotions out of the reader. Many books fail to do that to me.
4. This book is considered middle grade fiction. How do you think you would have reacted to it if you’d read it as a child?
Iseult: I’m really conflicted about this. Part of me thinks I wouldn’t have liked it. First of all, I was reading super long books at that age, so I probably would have considered it too unchallenging. There are also elements of the story that would have made me angry. However, I was a very morbid child, so I probably would have loved the dark themes. As I was being bullied at the time, I hope I would have seen it as validation for how serious bullying is rather than showing there is no escape from the situation.
Jonny: Hmm, I don’t think this was my cup of tea back then. I wanted action and adventure, which is why I read Animorphs and Goosebumps all the time.
But if I had given it a chance, I probably would’ve been really depressed about it as a whole. I also don’t think I would’ve necessarily understood it completely depending on whether or not this was before I had actually been bullied.
5. Puppets are an important part of this book. Why do you think puppets are so appealing, and do you consider them creepy or cute?
Iseult: I love puppets. I think it’s something to do with how they capture so much personality and life, while at the same time not looking life like at all. It imbues then with an eerie quality that makes you wonder if they’re playing possum and really have an active life of their own. I loved Mary’s puppets in this book. They were her creative outlet and her friends in a cruel world. She made an oasis of beauty to surround herself, and her puppets were part of this. I think puppets fall into the creepy category for me, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be cute sometimes too. They can steal your soul and look sweet while doing it.
Jonny: OMG Iseult, every bit of your description of puppets gave me the chills.
Clearly I am not the biggest fan of puppets. They’re right up there with IT. I think that how lifelike puppets are actually kind of always freaked me out a bit. Like Iseult said, they capture personality and life, and I’m way too much of a believer in the paranormal to ever mess around with any puppets, especially if their gaze seems to be lingering on me. *shudders*
That being said, the puppets take on another life in this novel. They’re not creepy at all, not to Mary and therefore not to me either because of the light she sees them in. Mary doesn’t have any friends, so she talks to the puppets and develops her social skills through them. I think her use of the puppets, though extremely introverted and sometimes anti-social, were used as a clever and creative coping mechanism.
6. What role does the actual building of Thornhill play in the book?
Iseult: I didn’t realize it at first, but the building of Thornhill is a character in itself, and its presence is insidious throughout the book. Why is the building such a dark entity? I’m not sure. Perhaps it has stored all the negative emotions of decades of orphans living there. Perhaps it’s built over an ancient burial ground. Who knows.
Jonny: You know, there really is something about the Thornhill house. Not only is it foreboding and creepy, but it projects an ambience of chills throughout the book. Even if there was no bully or orphanage, I still think this house would have an ambient creep factor.
Iseult may be onto something with negative emotions of decades of orphans. Definitely not going to do a séance there!
If you’d like to do a buddy read with me, or have an idea for a story or blog post collaboration, I’d love to hear from you! Leave a message in the comments, or reach out through my contact page.