Review #10: Fiction
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
I just finished reading Hollow City, the second novel in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children collection, and I thought, why not write two reviews (of the first and the second book) in one day. Brilliant right? So here’s the first; I’ll get cracking on the second posthaste.
Okay, so let’s get into in.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is one of the most imaginative, and creative (in both content and execution) YA novels I’ve come across. And it only gets better going into the second installment. I will say, I am glad these are coming out now, because they are rather creepy, and I am a complete wuss when it comes to things that could go bump in the night. I think I would have shied away from these in my teens, but for those kids now who like a good chill down your spine and eerie images burned into your mind, run don’t walk to pick these books up.
The first novel starts with Jacob Portman, who had grown up with his everyone-just-assumed-he-was-crazy grandfather and his mysterious stories of children who could do strange things. These are stories from WWII and before, when Jacob’s grandfather was a young man. Because of these odd photographs his grandfather had of the children, when Jacob was younger he believed these stories, but as he grew up, he started to believe as the rest of the family did–that the stories of strange children on a mysterious island in Wales, and the dangers surrounding them, were merely delusions of an aging man.
One night, Jacob get’s a disturbing call from his grandfather, and assuming he’s having an episode, Jacob goes to check on him at his home. When he gets there, he finds his grandfather in the woods behind his house, covered in his own blood and dying. He then sees a man, or monster, with tentacles where a mouth should be watching from the woods before vanishing. As he’s dying, Jacob’s grandfather tells him to find a letter, and a bird, to know the truth.
After this traumatizing experience, Jacob sees a psychiatrist because obviously no one believes he saw a monster kill his grandfather, and it’s this doctor who believes it may help Jacob get closure if he follows the letter that he does eventually find, to an orphanage on a Welsh island. Jacob goes with his father, and while exploring the island alone, finds what he’s looking for and then some.
It is here that Jacob learns his grandfather’s stories were not just stories, but the truth of a life he once lived, and he realizes that, like his grandfather and the children he meets at this orphanage run my Miss Peregrine (who can turn into a bird), he is also peculiar.
There are dangers for this peculiar group, who are stuck in a time loop in 1940. Other peculiars who want to harness the unique nature and create god-like rulers over the non-peculiar world, are hunting the children, and all other peculiar people, to use for experimentation. When the orphanage’s time loop is raided, and Miss Peregrine (in bird form) is kidnapped, Jacob must decide where he belongs and what path his life must take: stay with the peculiars and help them in their fight for their lives, or return home, with his family to a normal life.
I love this book, mostly because it really encompasses what a good YA can do, and that’s provide insight into difficult subjects that are all parts of growing up. From feeling different and not knowing where you fit in, to having a tumultuous family life, to losing loved ones, YA is a unique genre that can tackle these issues in creative and constructive ways, and Miss Peregrine’s Home is a brilliant addition to this style.
The most amazing aspect of this book are the images and the way the story is written around them. There are peculiar photographs throughout the book, all the strange and eerie creatures and evidence of the powers of the children, pictures of the mysterious island and images of the war. The best part: they are all real, they are all found images that Riggs has collected, or received from others to use. The story is literally written around these incredible photos that come from vastly different places and people, and the novel does not once feel that way. It doesn’t feel like the images are forced, or like they are simply thrown in. They make sense, and it really is a fantastic achievement.
I think some elements of the world that Riggs builds are under-explained. We are left with a few questions, though I rightly assumed that with the next installment in the collection, many of them are fleshed out. It effortlessly sets up a continuing struggle to face in the next book, but also means that you cannot pick these up out of order; you would have no idea what was going on. But since it’s a great read, that shouldn’t be a problem.
My rating for this first novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: 4 out of 5 stars.
*cover image from Amazon.com