When I searched the bookstore for a copy of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, I found it displayed in the Teen Reader section. I was briefly discouraged but had heard enough about the book to believe its appeal was not limited to that age group.
And when I made my purchase, the far-from-teenaged clerk exclaimed, “Oh! I just read this! It’s creepy. But you know, creepy can be really good.” She was right.
This debut novel by author Ransom Riggs is a strange and totally engaging bit of science fiction. It tells the story of 16-year-old Jacob Portman. He’s grown up listening to his grandfather Abe tell stories of the unusual Welsh orphanage he was sent to in order to escape the atrocities of World War Two.
Jacob is enthralled by the stories of peculiar children inhabiting the orphanage. There is one who levitates, one who has bees living inside him, another who is invisible, yet another who has an uncanny sense of knowing about events without being told anything about them.
Abe shows Jacob an eerie collection of photos of these children. But as Jacob matures, he comes to the conclusion that the stories are nothing more than fairy tales and the photos doctored for effect.
Then suddenly, Abe is found brutally attacked, clinging to life. He refers to monsters, which is frightening to Jacob since he believes he saw a “monster” shortly before Abe’s attack. Abe desperately tries to convey a message to Jacob before he passes away. But it’s cryptic, involving finding “the Bird”, finding “the loop”, going to “the island” and the 3rd of September, 1940.
With some investigating of his grandfather’s belongings following his passing, Jacob realizes where the island is…and he and his father set out for the remote location off the coast of Wales.
It’s there that the story takes flight. For while Jacob expects to visit the orphanage and perhaps locate people who may have known his grandfather, what he finds at first is nothing but the crumbling ruins of what was once Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
Without giving too much away, all is not as it seems in this magical, mysterious location. Is it possible that some of the residents with their peculiar abilities have survived? Was there more to the home than a haven for orphaned children? And will Abe’s message be unraveled before it’s too late?
Author Riggs has a knack for intriguing and descriptive phrases. For example, Jacob describes exploring the orphanage: “I went from room to room, examining their contents like an archaeologist. There were wooden toys moldering in a box; crayons on a windowsill, their colors dulled by the light of ten thousand afternoons; a dollhouse with dolls inside, lifers in an ornate prison.”
He has also added a most unusual and haunting touch in the form of a strange collection of photographs which are authentic and vintage photos from the archives of (by my taste) rather bizarre collectors. Only a few have been minimally postprocessed, he says. It’s eerie how they have been chosen to depict characters or scenes from the book. Or perhaps the photo discoveries came first, thus inspiring the author to write the story?
Anyone missing Harry Potter may find excitement with Miss Peregrine’s… and its magical properties. Readers of The Time Traveler’s Wife might also be drawn to it. Yet nothing is quite like this book.
It seems ripe for a film, so visual is the writing and so creepily fascinating the storyline.
Published by Quirk Books. 348 pages. For more information click on the image: