Thornhill by Pam Smy
Published by Roaring Brook Press, 2017
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Smy utilises two distinct formats to present the converging halves of Thornhill’s dual narrative. We have the written diary of Mary; kept during her final months at the eponymous orphanage for girls in the 1980s. Its pages detail the horrendous bullying she endures at the hands of the other girls. Running in parallel, and presented entirely in illustration, we follow Ellie in the present day. As she moves into the house across from the now abandoned Thornhill, she spots the figure of a girl lurking in the grounds and determines to investigate.
There’s a real air of pathos that hangs over Thornhill. Much of its mystery becomes apparent early on, but this doesn’t lessen the sense of impending tragedy and unease that swells as we move towards the climax. I was pleased to see Smy lean into the story’s inherent darkness, ultimately commenting on the insidious nature of loneliness. That said, both narrative threads lag somewhat in the middle, becoming too repetitive, and I would have liked more development for Ellie, who remains largely a blank canvas.
The prose itself is very simple, though this works given the first-person diary perspective, but Smy’s monochrome artwork is rich and atmospheric; definitely the book’s star attraction.
Born in a Second Language by Akosua Zimba Afiriyie-Hwedie
Published by Button Poetry, 2021
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
The majority of the poems in this collection focus on Afiriyie-Hwedie’s complicated relationship with language, musing on how much our cultural identity is tied up in our mother tongue; how a disconnect from one can make us feel estranged from the other.
It’s a fascinating topic, and Afiriyie-Hwedie tackles it with nuance, employing a suitably beautiful and engaging writing style. Structurally, a few of the more playful pieces felt a tad too gimmicky for my taste, and as a whole, the collection does feel a little short – though with such a tight thematic focus, I can appreciate the desire to avoid too much repetition.
All-in -all, this is a compact, perceptive collection that is worth checking out.
Thank you to the publisher for a free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.