by Pam Smy


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Parallel stories set in different times, one told in prose and one in pictures, converge as a girl unravels the mystery of the abandoned Thornhill Institute next door.

1982: Mary is a lonely orphan at the Thornhill Institute For Children at the very moment that it's shutting its doors. When her few friends are all adopted or re-homed and she’s left to face a volatile bully alone, her revenge will have a lasting effect on the bully, on Mary, and on Thornhill itself.

2017: Ella has just moved to a new town where she knows no one. From her room on the top floor of her new home, she has a perfect view of the dilapidated, abandoned Thornhill Institute across the way, where she glimpses a girl in the window. Determined to befriend the girl and solidify the link between them, Ella resolves to unravel Thornhill's shadowy past.

Told in alternating, interwoven plotlines—Mary’s through intimate diary entries and Ella’s in bold, striking art—Pam Smy’s Thornhill is a haunting exploration of human connection, filled with suspense.

A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2017

A New York City Public Library Notable Best Book for Kids

A 2018 ALSC Notable Children's Book

A VOYA Top of the Shelf Pick

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626726543
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication date: 08/29/2017
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 174,708
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.50(d)
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About the Author

Pam Smy studied Illustration at Cambridge School of Art, part of Anglia Ruskin University, where she now lectures part-time. Pam has illustrated books by Conan Doyle (The Hound of the Baskervilles), Julia Donaldson (Follow the Swallow) and Kathy Henderson (Hush, Baby, Hush!), among others. She lives in Cambridge.

Read an Excerpt


February 8, 1982

I knew it was too good to last. She is back. Without even looking I knew it. I heard her laughter echoing up the stairwell, the usual thumping on each of the doors in the corridor as she made her way back to her old room. I froze as I heard those sounds. Fear tingled into my neck and down my back as the old feeling seeped into my bones.

I don't believe it.

What will I do now?


February 9, 1982

I've decided to lock myself away. Now that she is back it is the only way I can keep myself safe. I'll tell them I am ill or something. They'll probably not even notice I'm not down there anyway. As long as I don't have to see her. As long as I don't have to face her, look her in the eye, hear her voice. Yes, locking myself away is the answer.

It's great up here, actually. I am the only girl with my own sink and bathroom. I love having the highest room in the whole building, being able to look up at the topmost branches of the trees outside. I can watch the birds skim past, fast and free. Carefree.

And from up here I overlook the houses where the real people, the regular people, live. Sometimes I watch them sleepily opening their curtains in the mornings, heaving out their garbage bags in their bathrobes, letting out their cats, feeding the birds. In the summer they have friends round and there's noisy laughter and tinkling glasses in the gardens, and on hot days I watch the squealing children splashing in wading pools or squabbling over tricycles. You know, regular, real people with regular, real families. Of course, sometimes that is all a bit much and I have to shut them out too.

Yes, it's not bad up here. Locking myself away won't be hard at all.


February 14, 1982

I started to make another figure today. I have molded the body, arms, and legs. I am making it small, like a child. Not sure who it will be yet.

So far, I seem to be getting away with staying up here. I am going down when I know the others are all in front of the TV and Kathleen is bustling around in her apron, clearing up the dining hall. She knows. She knows I am not coming down to eat with the others and that I'm bringing down yesterday's tray and restacking it with bread rolls, packets of biscuits, yogurts, and apples. She watches me, gives me a wink, and lets me get on with it. I like Kathleen. She's nice.

Even stealing downstairs for those five minutes each day makes me sick with fear. My palms prickle with slippery sweat, my heart pounds in my ears, and even when I am safely back up here it takes a while for my hands to stop shaking.

It is a feeling I haven't had for months. When she left to be fostered last time, I could breathe again. I felt as though I had been holding my breath for years. The other girls weren't exactly friendly after she left, but it's just that they left me alone. They don't speak to me because they don't get a reply, so mostly they act as though I am not there. Invisible. That can feel lonely, but I am used to that. Loneliness is nothing compared to the crush of fear I have when she is here at Thornhill.

I can understand their adoration of her. If you were to describe us the first words would be the same. Both blond, blue-eyed girls of thirteen. But my hair is long and limp. Hers bounces in natural ringlets. My eyes are small with dark shadows under them. Hers are big and round and pretty. I'm always frowning. She looks like a rosy-cheeked doll. The others follow her like puppies, desperate to catch some of her beauty, impress her so that she rewards them with one of those beautiful smiles.

Luckily for me, though, I haven't seen her yet — I think she is leaving me alone. Sometimes I hear her walking along the hallway below, the familiar stomp and howls of laughter if she is with her old friends or, if she is on her own, the thump, thump, thump on each of the doors she passes. I shake then too. Sometimes I wake up in the night, that noise filling my head. That thump, thump, thump fills me with terror — even in my dreams. Thump, thump, thump. I lie there cold with fear and remembering.





February 16, 1982

Getting a bit fed up with bread rolls and yogurt.

February 17, 1982

I started rereading The Secret Garden today. I read it years ago, but I had forgotten loads of it. The girl in it is called Mary too and her parents die right at the beginning of the story, so she is on her own, like me. But she can speak whenever she chooses, so I guess she isn't like me. She is supposed to be the heroine, but for a main character she isn't very likable. Sickly looking. Yellow, pasty skin. Sharp features. Always cross with people. I rather like it that she isn't one of the usual type — those pretty ones who are always kind and patient despite the terrible hardships they face. Life just isn't like that. Mine isn't anyway.

This Mary is picked on by the other kids too. They chant a nursery rhyme, "Mary, Mary, quite contrary," at her and she just ignores it. To be fair, even I could probably ignore a bit of name-calling.

I have decided to make my new figure into Mistress Mary Quite Contrary. Right after school I curled up on the floor under the window and worked away at the clay, pinching and sliding it around until a head began to appear. It was quite tricky to shape the face as I imagined it — sharp pointy nose and chin, sunken little eyes. I enjoyed it, though. It is strange how the evening slips by when you are absorbed in something.

I often wonder what my life would be like without my puppets. I think about the other girls who don't have a passion for making or imagining and wonder what they do with their time. I wonder if they are bored. I am never bored. I am learning all the time, not just about different types of puppets from around the world or in history, but about the making of small bodies and figures and clothes and hair and eyes and shoes. And I love that I am surrounded by the things I have made. They sit on shelves above my bed, on my bookcase, suspended from the ceiling, balanced on my windowsill — my puppets are like friends that sit and keep me company. They watch me as I make their companions or add new ideas and designs to my sketchbook. I think that some people would find it creepy having all these little eyes watching them — but I don't. When I go into the dining hall and see all those old photos of the unnamed girls who have lived here over the last hundred years, all lined up in ghostly groups — that's scary. But my dolls are my comfort. In some way, even though I am often on my own, with my puppets about me, I don't feel so alone.


February 25, 1982

My luck has run out.

Jane came up to my room today. Of course it would be Jane. Of all the caregivers she is the one who actually seems to care. She has a lovely smile and a nice way about her. Sometimes she pats the back of my hand and at Christmas she gives me a hug. I can actually speak to Jane if I am up here in the safety of my room. I don't know what it is about Pete and Sharon, but my voice gets stuck and I can't reply to them, even in a whisper, even up here. But with Jane it is easier. She is the one who would have noticed something was wrong. I heard her soft steps before the gentle tap at the door.

"Hello," she said. "Can I come in?"

Before I tried to answer she was in already, easing herself onto the bed with a smile as if she was my best buddy. Sometimes I have to remind myself that she is paid to do this. It's her job. I just sat and waited to hear what she had to say.

"Wow! Look at these new puppets! They're really fab, Mary! There are quite a few new ones since I was up here last."

I didn't say anything.

She picked up Mistress Mary. "Oh! Is this one you? It looks just like you, you clever thing!" I didn't say anything.

I hoped she wasn't going to keep up this cheerful, chattery stuff. It didn't sound right up here. She chatted a bit about Princess Di expecting a baby and about Thornhill closing and about where the other girls would be going. Then it went a bit quiet and she said: "I just thought I'd pop up 'cause I hadn't seen you for a while and I wanted to know how you were. How are you?"

I just looked at her wide face and smiley pink-lipsticked mouth. She was fiddling nervously with Mistress Mary. Mary's head was lolling from side to side as Jane turned her over and over.

"Ahem ... Well ... I thought I hadn't seen you and I asked around and thought that maybe you were avoiding coming down because ... well ... because a certain person is back."

I went cold. Blink. Look natural, I thought. Say nothing. I blinked again.

"Since she came back I've noticed that you aren't spending time with us. You leave for school really early in the morning. I know you were never keen on being with us in the TV room, but I haven't even seen you in the dining hall. I'm not even sure you're eating properly. Are you eating, Mary?"

I stared at her. This was too much. Too close. I didn't want it talked about. I didn't want to listen. I tried to block out the words and just focus on Jane's hands as she tipped Mistress Mary over and over. I tried not to hear, but I couldn't help it. As she chatted away I heard phrases like, "we have to pity her," "difficult to be rehomed," "you must remember what it is like to be sent back here after thinking you have been placed with a family," "she must feel rejected," and "you should give her a chance to be friends."

That's when I snapped out of it.



"Would you, Mary? If I have a word with her and ask her to be friends, would you try too?"

Could she be serious? Did she know what she was suggesting?

"I know it is more difficult for you, Mary, with your speaking issues and all, but ... if you could?

"I am going to go down now and have a chat with her, Mary, and tomorrow you can come down and have breakfast with the rest of us. It'll be much better for everyone here at Thornhill if we can all get along. I'll come and knock for you in the morning so we can go down together. Okay, Mary?"

It sounded like a question but really it was an instruction.

I was aware that I was staring back. Blink. My eyes ached. Remember this so you can write it down later. Blink. My jaw ached. Remember what she is asking of you. Blink. I felt cold.

"Well, I am glad that is all sorted out," she said.

Jane stood up and walked out, clicking the door shut behind her. I like Jane, but she is really wrong this time.

I hadn't said a word.

I noticed that she had left Mistress Mary sprawled out on the bed, her arms and legs twisted under themselves. Mary's head was facedown on the pillow.


February 26, 1982

Maybe I imagined that everyone seemed to go quiet when Jane and I walked into the dining hall this morning. I felt completely stupid walking beside her as she chatted in the slightly overchirpy, overenthusiastic way of hers. Everyone must have known she had made me come down. I felt their eyes following us as we wove through the dining hall tables and up to Kathleen at the kitchen hatch. I kept my eyes down and didn't look at any of them. I knew my face was burning red, but I felt the usual cold fear all over. She was there in the room. I could feel her eyes on me. Kathleen gave me a smile and a wink as I loaded toast onto my plate with a shaking hand.

Jane began to talk to some of the other girls at another table, so I slid into a chair at an empty table and tried to look as though I was concentrating really hard on spreading the butter on my toast.

I knew who it would be when someone sat in the opposite chair.

"Hey, Mary," she said. "Great to see you."

She began to talk. It all sounded a little too loud, as if she wanted the others to hear too. She went on about how it was tough being sent back here and that she'd had to think about how she behaved and that she was turning over a new leaf and she wondered if I would think about forgiving her for everything that had happened and could we be friends now?

Her speech was finished. The dining hall was silent. Everyone was listening, watching, waiting to see what I would do. I realized that the only sound was the rattling of my knife on my plate as my hand trembled. I put it down and hoped no one else had heard it.

Jane bustled over and broke the silence.

"Thank you, girls. It is great to think that we can all get along so well here," Jane said, and hurried out of the room.

Steadily she drew back the chair and stood up.

"I really mean it this time, Mary," she said as she followed Jane out of the room.

Table by table groups of girls went out too. I watched them go until I was the only one left in the dining hall. Just me and Kathleen, who had watched the whole performance through the hatch.

She shook her head and made a tutting sound.

"I know I shouldn't say it, but I wouldn't trust that one as far as I could throw her," she grumbled as I passed her plates from the empty tables. "She's all smiles and eyelashes and they follow her around like she's a princess, but those sweet smiles don't wash with me. There's a reason why she keeps being sent back here. Why no one will keep her ..."

I must have had a look on my face because she hurriedly added, "I know you haven't been able to settle anywhere yet, Mary — but that's different. People find the quietness unsettling, that's all. One day there'll be someone special who doesn't expect you to be jabbering on all the time and you'll have a proper home, better than this creaking old place."

She ruffled my hair.

"You better be off to school. Here, take these." And she handed me a mini packet of ginger cookies.

As I left the dining hall she called out, "You look after yourself, Mary."


March 1, 1982

Well, today did go better than I had hoped. They were all waiting outside the front door in a big huddle when Jane brought me down. She was there, I could sense it, but she didn't say anything and we all shifted off slowly toward school.

The hairs were up on the back of my neck the whole time we walked. My heart was pounding. But it was quite nice to have other people to walk to school with. They didn't chat much to me directly and I hung near the back of the group so I didn't have to be with her, but the others still walked with me and I listened to them chatting about their favorite bands, boys in class, and TV shows.

It was good not to be on my own all day.

A couple of them walked home with me too. I came straight up to my room when we got back and they all bundled noisily into the TV room. But that's okay. It isn't as bad as it could have been.


March 2, 1982

This morning was much like yesterday. We all walked to school in one noisy gang of Thornhill girls.

I am not sure what to make of it.

When she came back, I was convinced that she was going to start up again, pick up from where she left off. I was sure she was going to be my tormentor. But now that I think back on it, except for being her usual, noisy self, she hasn't been interested in me at all.

Could she actually have turned over a new leaf?

Could Jane have been right that we should try to get along?


March 8, 1982

Today she walked with me. The others just carried on chattering, but she slowed and walked at my pace. She asked me how I was. I didn't raise my head to answer, I just kept watching the ground. She carried on talking anyway, telling me what it had been like with the last foster family. At first I was tense and worried but found myself being more and more curious.

What it made me realize was that she wants to belong somewhere just as much as I do.


March 11, 1982

I didn't spend the evening in my room tonight. I joined them in the TV room and watched Top of the Pops. Jane sat in at the back of the room. I sat near the back too, watching as they shouted at the screen as their favorite bands flashed up on the chart countdown. When they played the number-one single they all jumped up and danced around the room, singing along as the singer pranced about on the stage, wearing a string vest.

Jane and I sat and watched them all. She muttered something about this song being ages old and that her parents used to listen to it. Then she said the best night to join them was Saturday. They all loved watching Dallas. She wanted me to join them, and, as I watched the other girls yelping and leaping around the room and giggling with each other, I decided I would.


March 13, 1982

It's late. I am writing this in bed, thinking about all the changes this week.

All the years I have been here I could never have imagined that I would have a week like this one. I feel part of things. Part of a normal life — well, as normal as life in a place like Thornhill can be.

Have things changed for me at last?

It's so different to walk to school as part of the group, to hear laughter and chatter around me. Now I understand what their jokes are about and why they are teasing each other, and knowing what's going on makes it sound less cruel and threatening. I like the noise of being surrounded by a group. It's as though there are little stories whizzing around — dreams of pop groups and boyfriends, gossip about eyeliner and shoes and teachers. I don't have to join in, but still I feel part of their gang — on the edges looking in, watching, listening, but happy to be included.


Excerpted from "Thornhill"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Pam Smy.
Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
February 8, 1982,
February 9, 1982,
February 14, 1982,
February 16, 1982,
February 17, 1982,
February 25, 1982,
February 26, 1982,
March 1, 1982,
March 2, 1982,
March 8, 1982,
March 11, 1982,
March 13, 1982,
April 4, 1982,
April 18, 1982,
April 30, 1982,
May 1, 1982,
May 3, 1982,
May 4, 1982,
May 8, 1982,
May 9, 1982,
May 10, 1982,
May 15, 1982,
June 3, 1982,
June 4, 1982,
June 16, 1982,
June 23, 1982,
June 24, 1982,
June 25, 1982,
June 28, 1982,
July 2, 1982,
July 10, 1982,
July 12, 1982,
July 15, 1982,
July 16, 1982,
July 17, 1982,
July 18, 1982,
July 19, 1982,
July 20, 1982,
July 21, 1982,
July 22, 1982,
July 23, 1982,
July 24, 1982,
July 28, 1982,
July 29, 1982,
July 30, 1982,
August 7, 1982,
August 9, 1982,
August 11, 1982,
August 15, 1982,
August 16, 1982,
About the Author,

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