Decades after the tragedy at and closure of gothic Thornhill Institute, a new girl in town is drawn into its story.
The past storyline is told through white, orphaned Mary’s diary entries (dated in the early 1980s); white preteen Ella’s modern, voiceless story unfolds, Wonderstruck-like, in intercut, illustrated, wordless sequences (frames of which occasionally have text, such as newspaper clippings). Selectively mute Mary is a puppet-making, literature-loving outcast at Thornhill, her situation complicated by the return of her chief tormenter and the ringleader of the other girls, back from a failed foster placement. These are Thornhill’s last days, the girls being sent to new placements so the property can be developed. Stoic Mary thinks she just wants to be left alone, until a taste of irresistible friendship turns to cruelty. In the present, lonely Ella is intrigued by Thornhill, especially the girl she sometimes sees beyond the locked walls. She sneaks onto the grounds, finds puppets, and repairs them before returning them, striking up an odd, at-a-distance friendship with the mysterious girl—who, she realizes, is likely the dead girl from the orphanage’s past. The puppets and doll figures take a familiar creepy motif and make it a source of joy and comfort. The striking monochromatic art is atmospheric and emotional in an understated way that gives it more power rather than less. It’s capped by an ambiguous climax and chilling denouement.
Beautiful, moody, sad, and spooky—all at once. (Horror/graphic hybrid. 10-adult)