A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that Miss Peregrine’s children were more than just peculiar. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow–impossible though it seems–they may still be alive.
“Find the bird. In the loop. On the other side of the old man’s grave. September third, 1940,” are the last words that Jacob’s grandfather, Abe, utters to him as he dies in his arms.
It’s Abe’s death and these seemingly nonsensical instructions that set 16-year-old Jacob’s journey in motion. Partly to not dismiss his grandfather’s last words as senile banter and partly to allay the nightmares that have haunted him since his death, Jacob travels to the island where his grandfather grew up with hopes of shedding light on his mysterious life.
An orphan of the Holocaust, Abe spent his childhood under the tutelage of Miss Peregrine at her home for Peculiar Children. Jacob grew up hearing Abe’s fantastical stories about the monsters who chased him and the children who lived there–a girl who could levitate (cover), a boy who was invisible, a girl with 2 mouths, etc. We are led to believe that Abe imagined this magical world and told his stories as children’s fairytales as a defense mechanism against the very real horrors that he faced in his life. Upon arrival to the mysterious island, however, Jacob discovers that the children and the monsters are actually very real.
I chose this book because everything about it, from the cover to the synopsis, promises a strange, haunting and creepy read. In actuality, there isn’t much that is creepy about it at all. Though peculiar, the children aren’t dangerous. And they aren’t quarantined so much as in hiding for their own safety.
The buzz on this book, of course, is the collection of vintage and downright bizarre photographs peppered throughout the pages. While I applaud the originality, I have to wonder how much more story there could have been if the photos hadn’t been such a central focus.
Oftentimes, character development is cut short, almost as if to say, I don’t have to flesh out this character anymore because I’m going to show you a picture of them instead. On the other hand, a few scenes feel unnecessary or misplaced–were they created for the sole purpose of showcasing a favorite photo rather than advancing the story?
Another issue I take with this story is that it gets from point A to point B very quickly. Riggs spends so much time describing this new world that Jacob has found, that by the time we’re finally presented with a problem in the last quarter of the book, we have to rush through the solution. Jacob gets his “Aha!” moment, but we don’t get ours because we’re not privy to his past experiences. Everything is handed to us in the form of exposition for sake of time. A and B happened because of C. We need to do D to fix it. E is the plan. There we did it. The end.
Don’t get me wrong. I think the writing was excellent. The words flow beautifully and are wonderfully descriptive. Reviewing this book posed a unique challenge because it wasn’t what I expected it to be, and how do I draw the line between reviewing the story that I wanted to read versus the story that the author wanted to tell?
Overall, I liked this book. It sometimes reads as though the story was created to connect the photos rather than the photos were supplied to enhance the story, but I can overlook that because it has a strong concept. The story has good bones and imaginative, colorful characters. The ending was a bit abrupt, but it did leave the story open for a sequel. Perhaps we’ll get more of a backstory and deeper character development in the next installment. I’m definitely curious to see where this story goes.
If you liked this book, you’ll probably also like:
- His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. The dark experiments that created the “monsters” in Peculiar remind me very much of the daemon separation experiments that take place in The Golden Compass. Riggs also briefly touches on time travel and strongly hints that it will be a central focus in the next installment. His mode of time travel is reminiscent of Pullman’s multiverse concept.
- I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore. John Smith is hunted tirelessly by monsters (in his case aliens) for being one of the last of his kind–just like Jacob. It will be interesting to see if Jacob turns into a survival expert now that he has discovered his “power.”