BOOK REVIEW: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Film Tie-in) by Ransom Riggs

BOOK REVIEW: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Film Tie-in) by Ransom Riggs

Quirk
August 2016
Paperback, $19.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Young Adult

5/10

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of curious photographs.

A horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old 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 the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

 

Jacob grew up on the stories of his grandfather’s childhood. Stories about children with special abilities and the monsters that hunted them.

“But why did the monsters want to hurt you?” I asked.
“Because we weren’t like other people. We were peculiar.”
“Peculiar how?”
“Oh, all sorts of ways,” he said. “There was a girl who could fly, a boy who had bees living inside him, a brother and sister who could lift boulders over their heads.”
It was hard to tell if he was being serious.

But as he grew older, and as the ridicule directed at him grew, he began to question the stories, and to explain them away with real-world horrors.

The peculiarity for which they’d been hunted was simply their Jewishness. They were orphans of war, washed up on that little island in a tide of blood. What made them amazing wasn’t that they had miraculous powers; that they had escaped the ghettos and gas chambers was miracle enough.

For the past several years he’s been going through the motions; working (or rather avoiding work) at the family business, trying to avoid unwanted attention at school, and engaging in a battle of wills with his parents over whether his grandfather should be sent to an old folks’ home. But soon that last point is rendered moot by the violent death of his grandfather, and the post-traumatic stress he suffers as a result stops him attending school or going to work.

I heard Ricky shout from the backyard. “I’M HERE!” I screamed, and maybe I should’ve said more, like danger or blood, but I couldn’t form the words. All I could think was that grandfathers were supposed to die in beds, in hushed places humming with machines, not in heaps on the sodden reeking ground with ants marching over them, a brass letter opener clutched in one trembling hand.

In an attempt to heal, both through discussions with his psychiatrist and searching through his grandfather’s things for an answer to the many questions left unresolved, Jacob discovers the island that was so important to his late grandfather and embarks on a journey of discovery.

“It could be important for him,” he told my mother after a session one afternoon. “It’s a place that’s been so mythologized by his grandfather that visiting could only serve to demystify it. He’ll see that it’s just as normal and unmagical as anyplace else, and, by extension, his grandfather’s fantasies will lose their power. It could be a highly effective way of combating fantasy with reality.”

The house isn’t exactly as he expected, and it looks like it hasn’t been touched in upwards of seventy years. But Jacob is about to discover that it’s not as simple as that, and that his grandfather was a refugee of more than just the Holocaust.

And that is how someone who is unusually susceptible to nightmares, night terrors, the Creeps, the Willies, and Seeing Things That Aren’t Really There talks himself into making one last trip to the abandoned, almost-certainly-haunted house where a dozen or more children met their untimely end.

 

The way this story came about is undoubtedly an interesting one, with pictures folded into the story that are actual vintage photographs that now belong to a number of collectors. It is interesting to imagine what the story was behind these images, and there’s definitely a deliciously creepy feel to old black and white photographs, especially from the days when exposure took much longer than it does these days.

Unfortunately, this was not enough to save the story.

The first third of the book seemed to have quite a different tone to the rest. The first third feels older and more mysterious, but it’s when the peculiar children come into play that the main character begins to act more impulsively and without regard for anyone else. He’s not that fantastic to begin with, but he grows more insufferable as the story moves on.

The writing was rather heavy handed, dropping hints with a subtlety intended for a middle grade audience while discussing events as they pertain to older teenagers, meaning the book that is rather unbalanced in that the allusions to horniness are unsuitable for younger readers, but the writing style isn’t exactly engaging for older readers. Jacob spends a lot of the novel seemingly going out of his way to not remember things that are made so clear to the reader, which just leads to the reader becoming increasingly frustrated with his stupidity.

Besides the disconnect in the writing, the story itself is also at odds with the marketing, as the whole design is gothic and creepy, but the story itself is not. Instead of creepy kids from creepy photos and maybe creepy haunted houses, readers are given something that is more akin to a cross between a rather lame travelling sideshow and X-Men. There is nothing here that’s particularly new or different, and it isn’t likely to keep you on your toes. 

Perhaps it’s that so much is just tweaked versions of other stories, or perhaps it is the heavy-handness, but the there really wasn’t anything new here, and the “twists” were easy to see from a long way off.

This reviewer isn’t ruling out that books two and three could prove worth reading, but they certainly aren’t going to be at the top of the reading list.

 

 

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Film Tie-in) by Ransom Riggs

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