Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, a Review

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is based on the idea that a number of old, strange photographs are not, as the appear, fake. Instead, they are pictures of peculiar children demonstrating their talents. One floats, one can raise the dead temporarily, and so on. We first hear about these children from the narrator, Jacob, who first heard about them from his grandfather, who claimed to have spent time living with them. As he grows older, however, Jacob decides his grandfather must have been making the stories up. He continues to believe this right up to the day his grandfather is killed by a monster, and no amount of counseling can make Jacob's nightmares go away.

Finally, Jacob convinces his father to take him to the place where the children once lived. He finds it a wreck, destroyed in World War II, and then finds out there is a way to go back. The children are real; they live their lives in a single, repeated day, just before the bomb fell. They are safe there, but they cannot leave, and the monsters are coming.

Looking back over this book, I'd have to say it was uneven. There are times when it approaches brilliance, and Riggs does make what could have been a mere gimmick, a set old, strange pictures, work as an important part of the story which creates a substantial portion of the atmosphere.

I was expecting, maybe hoping, for something kind of creepy,maybe even brilliant. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children never quite entirely grabbed me however, mostly due to the narrator. Jacob is a rather self-centered, whiny sixteen-year-old, and it's difficult to like him or care too much about what happens to him. Yes, there are reasons for his problems, and he does some growing over the course of the book, but his deliberate detachment from everyone around him had a distancing effect on me, as well. He tells us he was once close to his grandfather, but by the time the book starts, that closeness has ended, and his new relationship with the peculiar children never grows deep enough to be convincing. It seems he throws his lot in with them as much because he doesn't belong anywhere else as because he cares for them. This holds true even for his new love interest who was once his grandfather's girlfriend, a situation which makes the relationship seem both unreal and unstable.

On the other hand, the pictures are truly atmospheric and creepy, some of the individual descriptions of the children do reach creepy to affecting levels, and I found the use of the stable time loop and the reason the children could not leave to enter the modern day--they will age--creative. The solution to the dilemma was also satisfying, as a plot point.

There is an audio version of this book, but however well read it may be, I cannot see it truly capturing the book's essence. The pictures are far too important to be left out.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children was not quite what I had hoped, it attempted more than it could truly achieve, but it was a unique work, and it kept my interest, and I will definitely be watching for Ransom Riggs next book.

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