- Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs was published in June 2011
- Publisher: Quirk Books
- 352 pages
On account of this excerpt from the jacket cover, I was a bit afraid that Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children would be more like a horror flick -- and worse, one involving creepy kids -- than a interesting tale about some unique children. I shouldn't have worried, however. Even for an easily spooked person like me, Peculiar Children is an excellent read for any fiction fan.
A bored, rich teenager living with his family in Florida, Jacob is forever changed when his grandfather dies unexpectedly in a way that, to Jacob and no one else, seems suspicious. Growing up, Jacob's grandfather would tell Jacob impossible stories from his youth at an orphanage on an island off Ireland, of the resident children who had fantastical abilities. Many kids had typical powers -- flight, superhuman strength, invisibility, time manipulation, but there were other, more bizarre ones -- a boy had bees living inside of him which he could control, and another could use the hearts of rodents and other animals to raise once-living people from the dead for a short while, or to make living homunculi to do his bidding. Grandpa even had the vintage photographs to prove these children and their powers existed, but to Jacob, it was obvious the pictures had been manipulated. The pictures, which are actual photographs the author tracked down, are included throughout the book.
In addition to receiving a mysterious assignment of sorts from his grandfather, Jacob also sees a hideous beast in the woods where his grandfather lays dying and afterward, he begins to have frequent nightmares. His parents send him to a psychiatrist who eventually makes sense of his symptoms and encourages Jacob to explore the island and orphanage his grandfather called home as a young person. And there is where the bulk of the novel unfolds.
As I was reading, I was often reminded of other excellent novels, movies, and televisions shows -- the television show Heroes because the children's abilities are similar in nature to those of the show's characters, Harry Potter, more on account of there being a wise, old headmistress over an isolated building of children than the fact that the children had powers, and even Water for Elephants because the headmistress mentions that the children used to be safe in the open world, performing in circuses at side shows. While reading Peculiar Children called to mind other stories, it remains very unique.
The use of the old black and white photographs throughout the text is brilliant, and unnerving. Many of the pictures are indeed creepy, and the fact that they're actual photographs that weren't drawn up just to support the novel is baffling. What are the real stories behind these bizarre photographs?
There were only a couple of minor aspects that didn't sit well with me. One is that the action is mostly saved up for the last eighth of the book, then it's a rush to an end that comes too abruptly. There's at least another novel's worth of story to be told, though I'm not sure Riggs plans to write it. I have a feeling he's leaving it up to the reader's imagination.
Ransom Riggs has penned a wonderful first novel. Full of mystery and unexpected twists, with likable characters and a unique voice, it's no wonder Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a New York Times bestseller. I'd recommend this book to nearly any reader, and certainly anyone who enjoys a bit of fantasy or who's been wanting to read fantasy but doesn't want to start with an enormous series. I look forward to reading Riggs' future novels.