by Pam Smy
Blurb: Parallel stories set in different times, one told in prose and one in pictures, converge as Ella unravels the mystery of the girl 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.
2016: 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, Ella resolves to unravel Thornhill’s shadowy past.
- Age Range: 10 – 14 years
- Grade Level: 5 – 9
- Hardcover: 544 pages
- Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (August 29, 2017)
- ISBN-10: 162672654X
- ISBN-13: 978-1626726543
I’ve been pondering about what to say about this book for days. It took me awhile to see how I felt about the book and I ended up reading it twice. I could feel myself frowning the entire way all the way to the end.
There are two different storylines parallel to each other. The prose is the story of Mary in 1982, while the haunting, interlaced, black and white illustrations are Ella’s story in the present.
Mary is an orphan living at Thornhill in 1982 and is waiting to be adopted. She’s one of the only girls left along with a very mean girl who enjoys tormenting and bullying Mary to the point that Mary remains locked in her room most days.
She dreads even coming out to eat and spends all of her time in her room making dolls or reading The Secret Garden. Mary’s story is told from her diary pages. I found it emotional and really couldn’t understand why something wasn’t being done to control the behavior of these girls who were treating her wrongly and bullying her. There are spoilers/hints along the way which gives you an idea about the end. I thought that was almost too much.
Ella’s story is quite different. Told in the present, she’s moved into a house right next door to Thornhill and deals with her own set of problems. Her mother is absent for whatever reason, and her father is busy with work-related engagements, so Ella is left alone most of the time. Thornhill is viewed from right outside her window and she becomes curious when she sees a girl in the garden there, even though Thornhill has been shut down since 1982. It’s abandoned, but Ella is curious and begins to wonder about the girl she sees from time to time. She begins exploring the garden because, what else is there for her do?
This is a fairly large book at about 540 pages, but many of the pages are illustrations which make it a fairly quick read. I found the illustrations paired with Mary’s diary haunting and I didn’t want to put it down until I could find out what was going to happen with these two girls. I found the book unique, chilling, and atmospheric, but honestly, I wasn’t happy with parts of the story, especially the unexplained abrupt ending. Overall, it’s good and even though it’s juvenile fiction, it kept me engaged until the end.
My rating is 4.5****