Author: Ransom Riggs
Genre: Speculative Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Quirk Books
Publication date: June 2011
Hardcover: 352 pages
A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious 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 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 who once lived here—one of whom was his own grandfather—were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate 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.
Stand alone or series: Well, wouldn’t you know…we thought this was a stand alone but it turns out, it is the beginning of a series and it ends in a cliff-hanger.
How did we get this book: Ana got a review copy from the UK publisher, Thea bought her copy.
Why did we read this book: Thea was the first one to spot it and add it to her radar because it looks creepy and incredible. Then, Ana saw the positive reviews all over the place and that sealed the deal for a joint review.
Ana: First of all, allow me to say that Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children was not what I expected at all. Looking at the cover and then the awesomely creepy photographs inside, I was expecting a horror story similar to The Orphanage. And it actually starts like that and for its first 150 pages or so I was enthralled, completely loving this book to the point where I emailed Thea to say that this had top 10 potential. Then it becomes something completely different when things and secrets start to unveil. This is not a horror story after all – it is more Fantasy than anything else or, if we want to keep the cinematic parallel, it is less The Orphanage and more Groundhog Day meets X-Men. Mind you, this is not a bad thing, the story was still cool, the characters interesting and I loved the writing. But then, as the story progressed further, something happened to ME: I was REALLY enjoying this book, then it feels like my brain woke up, caught up with the story and started asking questions and it just wouldn’t shut up. I really, truly hate my brain sometimes because inasmuch as I loved this book, I also had many problems with it, with questions left unanswered that bugged me so much I couldn’t sleep (seriously). HOWEVER, I do bear in mind that due to the very nature of the story and the fact that it is the first in a series, these questions might be eventually addressed in the sequel? It is a most peculiar thing.
Thea: Ah, another disagreeing post at Smuggler Headquarters. So, I first saw this book earlier this year and proceeded to get very excited based on the title (what a great title!), the cover image, and, most of all, the synopsis that promises a tale of extraordinary and peculiar children in a crumbling mansion. When I finally curled up to read this book, I was not disappointed. I disagree with the fantasy label as that’s something of a misnomer – it’s true, broad speculative fiction, complete with monsters, singular powers, and emotional resonance. I loved this strange, beautifully packaged little book.
On the Plot:
Ana: Jacob grew up with his grandfather’s wonderful, fascinating childhood stories about the orphanage he grew up in back in Wales, the peculiar children who lived there and the bird who took care of them. Now, as a young teenage boy, Jacob has outgrown what he considers to be fairytales but the sudden, horrific death of his grandfather and his last words to him send Jake on a journey to find out the truth behind his grandfather’s stories – a truth that might change his life forever.
This is going to be one of those really difficult reviews to write because the plot is so twisterific that I need to be really careful not to give anything away and spoil the story. But the basics: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is a Fantasy novel written from the main character’s point of view and with vintage photos interspersed throughout the narrative.
Without spoiling the actual content of the story, the plot starts out as a mystery with Jacob’s trying to find out more about the Home for Peculiar Children (and what exactly makes them peculiar) and who/what killed his grandfather. But, once the revelations start coming out, it turns into an adventure-type of story with an increasing sense of danger leading to its resolution.
I think there is a marked difference in terms of atmosphere and pacing between the first and second halves of the story. The first half moves quite slowly, with Jacob dealing with the aftermath of his grandfather’s death, his PTSD symptoms as well as his investigation. It is a very character-driven half that deals with Jacob’s relationship with his family and with the fact that they are extremely rich people. He is a somewhat lonely boy whose relationship with his grandfather is one of the important things in his life. I loved this part of the novel: I loved the writing, the slow building up of tension and the weird vibe surrounding the Peculiar children.
The second half didn’t work as well for me. After Jacob’s discoveries about the truth behind the Home and the Children, the story takes a different turn, its pacing goes berserk, the story becoming less peculiar and more of a familiar type of adventure full of dangers and monsters around the corner. Although I actually enjoyed this part, it was a diminished enjoyment which I think led me to being more open to questioning certain aspects of the story especially those with regards to its internal logic. Part of me thinks that these are plot holes – part of me thinks they might be explained in the sequel. As I said before, I’ve had the most peculiar experience reading this book – I loved it but I have been questioning it ever since I finished it.
This brings me to the photographs that permeate the story. Those photographs are great additions to the mystery and help create the atmosphere of peculiarity. Those photos are…creepy, to say the least, and the author has confirmed they are REAL photos which he found via collectors and that totally blew my mind away.
Thea: Again, from the other side of the Atlantic, I disagree with Ana. I agree that the first and second halves of the novel are different animals – the first is more quiet and introspective, as Jake doubts himself, doubts what he saw when his grandfather died, attends counseling and is told by everyone that he’s basically “overly stressed” (aka crazy) and needs to chill out. When Jacob goes to his grandfather’s old home, however, and discovers that his stories were all true, the book shifts from that wavery “is he or isn’t he a poor teen suffering from PTSD after witnessing his beloved grandfather’s death” to a full blown work of speculative fiction. Nothing is as it first seems, and I think this twist is freaking brilliant. The pacing of the novel changes with that twist, shifting from introspection to action, but I don’t for a second consider that a bad thing. There is plenty of emotional gravitas to the novel and Jake is a hell of a narrator (more on that in the character section below). In this reader’s opinion, I was fully satisfied.
Like I said before, I loved this book from cover to cover, including the “After” bits (that will make sense when you read the book). I disagree with the assertion that their are plot holes – I think the more speculative fiction-y/fantastical elements are completely within the scope of reason, although there are some elements that I wish could have been explained better/further elaborated upon. I wish I could say more, but to do so would rudely spoil the book. I guess, all I can safely say is: read the book for yourself and see.
As to the photographs and their significance to the story, at least there is one thing that both Ana and I can agree upon! Many authors are influenced by particular works of art, or songs, or films, or other writings and often times try to integrate those into their stories. In this case, Mr. Riggs, a collector of vintage photography, found his muse in these very striking pictures from the past. That’s awesome.
On the Characters:
Ana: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children has a multitude of characters.
There is Jacob, of course and his determination to find out more about his beloved grandfather and then to do well by him. He is a relatable, fairly funny character whose journey leads him to having to make some pretty hard decisions (one of them relates to a romance with another character and I have to admit that this one totally gave me the creeps.) and I loved that he did those after consideration and knowing that there would be consequences. It will be interesting to see where he goes from here.
Having said that, at times, I have to admit to having a hard time believing he was a 15 year-old and thought his “voice” was somewhat off-mark.
As for the rest of the cast, even though the other characters were interesting, I don’t think that any of them were as well developed or fleshed out as Jacob except for perhaps, his father which is strange since he was really, a very peripheral character. I am hoping this will change with the next book.
Thea: I feel like a broken record here, but yes, once again, I disagree! The only characters we can safely talk about without spoiling are Jake and his family, and so I’ll limit my commentary to these characters.
At the heart of this novel is Jake – this is his story, his adventure into the heart of his grandfather’s past, his cathartic exploration for truth and meaning. A fifteen year old without any real friends, Jake is the son of a wealthy mother (whose family owns a national drug store empire) and an insecure father who can never finish anything he starts. Though Jake is isolated and a loner, he always has had his grandfather Abraham by his side. As a child, Abe would tell his grandson stories of monsters and children with special powers (to levitate, to be invisible, to eat out of the backs of their heads), and even as Jake grew older and realized his grandfather’s stories were just make believe – the children fellow Jewish orphans, the monsters Nazis – he always admired Abe. When his grandfather grows older and apparently senile, it is Jake who takes care of him and rails against his parents’ wish to get rid of the responsibility and put Abe in a home. When Abe dies though, claiming that the monsters had finally found him, Jake sees one of the monsters with his own eyes – and everything changes. It is this that makes Jake such an endearing and intriguing character: like all boys and girls, Jake has to grow up some day and leave behind the fantasies of childhood, and the stories of his grandfather. Unlike many boys and girls, however, Jake stubbornly clings to the hope that his grandfather’s stories are really true. In the words of Fox Mulder, Jake wants to believe. This tenuous blend of naivete, wavering on the cusp of reality and fantasy, is what attracted me so much to this character. That’s not to say Jake isn’t a relatable teen, though, because in other respects, Jake is fully believable as a fifteen year-old kid. He struggles with feelings of ineptitude and self-doubt (and this is in addition to all the usual teenage pangs of noticing the opposite sex, anger with parents, etc ad nauseam). To put it simply: I loved his narrative.
Beyond Jake, the other characters in his family are similarly fleshed-out and believable as well. The relationship between Jake’s mother (heiress to a fortune) and father (bird-watching, never-gets-anything-done dreamer) is particularly resonant. One of the more subtle threads in the book is the relationship between Jake’s father and grandfather – while Jake is so close to Abe (for reasons that become apparent late in the novel), Jake’s father never felt that connection – and that causes a great amount of familial tension. I cannot wait for this thread to be possibly explored in future novels. We shall see.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least allude to the many other characters in this book. Rest assured, they are there. They are fantastic. They are peculiar. And I loved them all.
Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:
Ana: Despite my misgivings, I really loved the book and I simply can not wait for the sequel. And I hear that there is a movie in the making – I feel this will translate awesomely to the big screen!
Thea: No misgivings here! I loved this book from cover to cover and cannot wait for more – and there better be more, considering the dramatic finale. Absolutely, wholeheartedly recommended. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is easily one of my notable reads of 2011.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From the Prologue:
I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen. The first of these came as a terrible shock and, like anything that changes you forever, split my life into halves: Before and After. Like many of the extraordinary things to come, it involved my grandfather, Abraham Portman.
Growing up, Grandpa Portman was the most fascinating person I knew. He had lived in an orphanage, fought in wars, crossed oceans by steamship and deserts on horseback, performed in circuses, knew everything about guns and self-defense and surviving in the wilderness, and spoke at least three languages that weren’t English. It all seemed unfathomably exotic to a kid who’d never left Florida, and I begged him to regale me with stories whenever I saw him. He always obliged, telling them like secrets that could be entrusted only to me.
When I was six I decided that my only chance of having a life half as exciting as Grandpa Portman’s was to become an explorer. He encouraged me by spending afternoons at my side hunched over maps of the world, plotting imaginary expeditions with trails of red pushpins and telling me about the fantastic places I would discover one day. At home I made my ambitions known by parading around with a cardboard tube held to my eye, shouting, “Land ho!” and “Prepare a landing party!” until my parents shooed me outside. I think they worried that my grandfather would infect me with some incurable dreaminess from which I’d never recover—that these fantasies were somehow inoculating me against more practical ambitions— so one day my mother sat me down and explained that I couldn’t become an explorer because everything in the world had already been discovered. I’d been born in the wrong century, and I felt cheated.
I felt even more cheated when I realized that most of Grandpa Portman’s best stories couldn’t possibly be true. The tallest tales were always about his childhood, like how he was born in Poland but at twelve had been shipped off to a children’s home in Wales. When I would ask why he had to leave his parents, his answer was always the same: because the monsters were after him. Poland was simply rotten with them, he said.
“What kind of monsters?” I’d ask, wide-eyed. It became a sort of routine. “Awful hunched-over ones with rotting skin and black eyes,” he’d say. “And they walked like this!” And he’d shamble after me like an old-time movie monster until I ran away laughing. Every time he described them he’d toss in some lurid new detail: they stank like putrefying trash; they were invisible except for their shadows; a pack of squirming tentacles lurked inside their mouths and could whip out in an instant and pull you into their powerful jaws. It wasn’t long before I had trouble falling asleep, my hyperactive imagination transforming the hiss of tires on wet pavement into labored breathing just outside my window or shadows under the door into twisting gray-black tentacles. I was scared of the monsters but thrilled to imagine my grandfather battling them and surviving to tell the tale.
More fantastic still were his stories about life in the Welsh children’s home. It was an enchanted place, he said, designed to keep kids safe from the monsters, on an island where the sun shined every day and nobody ever got sick or died. Everyone lived together in a big house that was protected by a wise old bird—or so the story went. As I got older, though, I began to have doubts.
“What kind of bird?” I asked him one afternoon at age seven, eyeing him skeptically across the card table where he was letting me win at Monopoly.
“A big hawk who smoked a pipe,” he said.
“You must think I’m pretty dumb, Grandpa.”
He thumbed through his dwindling stack of orange and blue money. “I would never think that about you, Yakob.” I knew I’d offended him because the Polish accent he could never quite shake had come out of hiding, so that would became vood and think became sink. Feeling guilty, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.
“But why did the monsters want to hurt you?” I asked.
“Because we weren’t like other people. We were peculiar.”
“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.”
You can read chapters 1-3 for free online HERE.
And check out the awesome trailer as well!
Ana: I have no idea how to rate this. Did I love the book? Yes, I did and very much so. Do I think it has its share of not so good things? Yes, I do. Do I think other people will have the same problems as I did? I don’t think so. I would then go with a 7 – Very Good.
Thea: 8 – Excellent
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