Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Novel)
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children #1) by Ransom Riggs
Publisher: Quirk Books
Release Date: June 7th, 2011
With the upcoming release of Tim Burton's film version of this New York Time's bestseller right around the corner, I decided to finally read the novel that had been staring back at me with its mystifying cover and odd title for the past five or so years. Ransom Rigg's Miss Peregrine series is known for the vintage photographs that pepper the novel and inspired the characters, setting, and plot. These photos add a creepy flavor to this imaginative, if not entirely satisfying, literary adventure.
Miss Peregrine's tells the story of Jacob (which is a pretty great name for a protagonist), who grew up listening to his grandfather's tales of childhood in a magical orphanage filled with fantastic children. There was a girl who could float, another who started fires, an invisible boy, and even a super-strong pair of siblings. After his grandfather is killed by a horrific monster, Jacob convinces his father to let him visit the island of Cairnholm (a fictional location in Wales) where the orphanage was supposedly located. It is there that Jacob eventually stumbles upon the truth behind his grandfather's stories and photographs: they were all true. There really is an island of mysteriously gifted children, and they've been in hiding from a monstrous force that has been trying to hunt them down for over a century.
It is a very imaginative story, and I need to give Ransom Riggs a lot of credit for his development of Jacob. He's an angry and depressed sixteen year old rich boy who grows up in with a very cynical outlook. He lashes out at his family and friends, but admits to the reader that he doesn't mean what he says. At times he's empathetic, at other times he's crude. In other words, he's a sixteen year old boy. The problem is that this point of view clashes a bit with the ethereal and fantastic nature of Miss Peregrine's world, which occurs much later in the novel. When we finally meet the titular character and her entourage of super-powered children, it created tonal dissonance that didn't sit right with me. One example of this is during a scene with one of the characters where the set-up and writing makes everything appear romantic and magical, but it is suddenly broken by extreme language that takes you out of the moment. I think this scene really sums up an issue that I had with the book. This scene was almost romantic, just like the monsters are almost scary, the characters almost interesting, the the photos almost creepy. The book reaches for these moments but always seems to fall flat.
The photograph angle, while clever, did not pan out in the way I had hoped either. It constrained the story, as it seems some characters were added just to appease the use of a photograph. Sometimes we meet a child from a photo and we never hear from them again: the picture's gone, so they are too. We only see photographs if Jacob sees them within the story or recalls seeing them, and at times characters are pulling out these photographs in very odd situations or scenes. Why are they carrying that picture with them right there and then? There are three particularly egregious photos that are almost shoe-horned into the story, and they, alongside their inclusion, could have been completely omitted from the book entirely (the grandfather laying in bed with a gun, another with pulling a shotgun from a car trunk, and the on with the boy in a bunny suit crying). I think pulling inspiration from these photographs is a great idea, but showing them diminishes the story and characters and ultimately hurts the narrative.
I don't want to sound like I'm coming down too hard on the book, but I suppose I point these out because I'm trying to figure out why it didn't click with me as much as I wanted it to. I didn't dislike this book, nor do I think it's inherently flawed. It's very well-written, flows easily, and is a clever concept. I think Miss Peregrine's is a fine story, but it was not entirely for me. I definitely see the appeal and understand how this has created such a large following. It's a very quick read and there are some brilliant moments. If the premise intrigues you, then check it out.