After about a month of picking at books like so many scabs, I finally actually finished one: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.
I bought this book in the airport bookstore in Orlando, Florida on my way back home, since I was very close to finishing whatever I was reading at the time, but it was mostly read on the trip up to Madison from Houston. I finally finished it earlier this week at CoffeeBytes.
My initial reaction upon reaching the back cover?
“GIVE. ME. MORE.”
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is an adventure/fantasy novel that could be described in a word as, “curious.” Starting with the cover, which shows a photograph of an angry-looking little girl floating several inches off the ground, it only gets more striking. We meet 16-year-old Jacob Portman, of Miami, who has had a rough life socially despite coming from a well-off family. His one close familial connection is to his grandfather, who is mysteriously found dead. After his death, Jacob goes through his grandfather’s belongings and finds notes from someone named Emma on an island off the coast of Wales, referencing Miss Peregrine and a children’s home, and a number of creepy photographs of children in his grandfather’s stories. Jacob remembers that his grandfather often spoke of the children’s home where he lived after fleeing mainland Europe in WWII. He suspects something’s up and asks his parents if he can go to Cairnholm Island in Wales for the summer, to which his ornithologist father reluctantly agrees after finding out there’s an endangered species of bird there.
So off they go to the island. While exploring, Jacob comes across an old, abandoned house that he presumes is the remains of the children’s home. Going inside, he discovers a trunk full of old pictures of children that are of a similar variety to his grandfather’s, when all of a sudden, said children appear. Determined to find answers, Jacob chases them, and ends up passing through a cairn into the past, resurfacing in World War II, when the house was a children’s home run by the mysterious Miss Peregrine. There, he befriends the children and realizes that his grandfather’s stories were all true: he lived in this home, full of children with special powers, and that Jacob himself may have a power, he just doesn’t know what it is yet. The reason that they all exist in this limbo is because of a time loop: every night at the same time – right before a bomb drops on the island – the clock is reset to the day before, making it September 3 for all of eternity, and keeping the children young and safe forever.
But this idyllic world is not immune to danger. Creatures called hollows are causing mayhem, panic, and destruction in Jacob’s world and Miss Peregrine’s world. Jacob and his new friends – Emma, who can conjure fire; Millard, who is invisible; Enoch, who can wake the dead; Fiona, who plants magical gardens; Bronwyn, who has super strength; Horace, who is psychic; Olive (presumably the girl on the cover), who floats away if she’s not chained to anything; and Hugh, who has a stomach full of bees (?) – set out to stop them. After several trips between the world and surprising revelations, the time loop gets destroyed and the children must figure out a way to stop the hollows – before they all rapidly age in the real world. The sequel, which I will be buying and reading immediately, is set to come out in January.
The book is a fun, magical adventure that mixes old and new, and doesn’t try too hard to play up the fantasy angle (Harry Potter, Twilight). I was captivated and couldn’t wait to pick it back up whenever I put it down. Periodically, when new characters are described, their photos appear on the succeeding pages, so you never know what you’ll see each time you turn the page – a technique Riggs refers to as “vernacular photography.” This makes me want to go to an antique shop right now, get some old photos, and write stories for them. Or maybe even match them up with old postcards with strange messages on them. IDEA. YES. The only thing that I didn’t really like about the book was that some of the characters’ names were too similar (Emma/Enoch, Horace/Hugh) and sometimes I forgot each one’s powers. I often confused Fiona with Bronwyn and vice versa. I also found the character of Emma somewhat problematic. She had a romance with Abe (Jacob’s grandfather), and starts one with Jacob, which is kind of creepy, not to mention the fact that she’s young enough to live in a children’s home, and Jacob is 16. I forgot how old Emma said she was, but at some times she seemed like a child; at others, a young adult. She must have been 13 or 14 or else her and Jacob’s relationship would’ve been weird. Then again, Jacob refers to her as “one of the children” – is he referring to her being a child, or her living in a children’s home? Peculiar.
And the main character’s name is Jacob, so, bonus points for that.
Overall, this is the best book I’ve read so far this year. Get yourself a copy, read it, come to my apartment, and let’s get peculiar.