Review of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

From the very first paragraph of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, written by Ransom Riggs, Jacob claims that his life is painfully average, and of course, nothing promises a story more extraordinary. After the disturbing death of his grandfather, Abraham, Jacob is sent to a psychiatrist to cope with his grief. During his sessions, Jacob begins to sort out the strange collection of words his grandfather whispered to him with his dying breath: “Go to the island… Find the bird. In the loop. On the other side of the old man’s grave. September third, 1940. Emerson- the letter.” After being given a book of Emerson poems, Jacob deduces that his grandfather wanted him to look for answers where Abraham grew up: Wales. Reluctantly, at the insistence of Jacob’s psychiatrist, Jacob’s father takes him to Wales for a three-week vacation.
As soon as he arrives, Jacob seeks the help of locals to find the children’s home where Abraham was sent to escape the Nazis as a Polish child. The locals are less scared of the place than confused as to why Jacob would have interest in the bombed remains of the school. Determined, Jacob hikes through the Welsh rain and finds the ruin of the school. Inside, he finds that the upstairs rooms are mostly intact, the hallways lined with the strange pictures that his grandfather showed him as a child- unbelievable images of children levitating, lifting impossibly large boulders over their heads, conjuring fire with their hands. In a trunk, he finds thousands of the same photos and begins to doubt that Abraham’s stories were, in fact, stories.
This notion is proved when he meets a few of the children from the story; looking exactly as they do in the pictures, seventy years later. When Jacob tries to speak to them, they run. He dashes after one of the girls and after passing through a cave, finds himself in the same place, but in September of 1940. The girl, Emma, pulls a knife on him and demands that he tell her why he followed her. She doesn’t believe him when he says he is the grandson of Abraham and takes him to see her headmistress: Miss Alma LeFay Peregrine. Miss Peregrine, though saddened to hear of Abraham’s death, is delighted to see Jacob; she seems to have been expecting him.
Jacob is soon introduced to all of the children of Miss Peregrine’s home, children with special abilities known as “peculiars.” Abraham, too, was a peculiar, able to see monsters known as wights. With the help of the peculiar children, Jacob works to find a way to eradicate the beasts that murdered his grandfather and might very well come for him, as well.

I enjoyed this book a lot. One of the most original parts of the book is that it is based around, if not on, vintage photographs obtained by the author. The photographs are reproduced in the book’s pages and, most of the time, add a lot to the story. There were a few that I thought were forced into the plot simply because it was time for a picture, and others that seemed retouched to the point where they didn’t look like photographs anymore. In the back of the book, Riggs writes that none of the pictures have been retouched further than they were before he saw them, and while this may be true, I still found some of them to be inauthentic.

Jacob is a great character with whom to go on a journey. Riggs writes him in a way that toes the line of too-angry teenager, but never crosses it, and Jacob grows out of that angst as the novel progresses, finding that other things in life are more important. He’s wry and smart and is mature enough at sixteen to accept the peculiars as his friends, despite their strange personalities and abilities.

The solitary thing that bothered me about the novel was Jacob’s relationship with Emma. I love romance in YA fiction, but I dislike when modern-day characters get involved with characters from the past. While Jacob and Emma were only separated by seventy-odd years (as opposed to the few hundred that separates the Twilight protagonists), I still hold that it is intensely uncomfortable to watch a character kiss his seventeen/eighty-eight year-old crush who also happened to be his grandfather’s girlfriend. As another author has observed about these kinds of romances, the problem is not whether the person looks old; it’s that they are old. Jacob himself acknowledges the weirdness of this situation, but that doesn’t stop him from making out with Emma a few pages later. Don’t get me wrong, the scenes with them are cute, but I was constantly nagged by the fact that he was thinking longingly about a woman who is essentially in her eighties, no matter how youthful her physique.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children covers every base for the YA reader that enjoys creepiness, mystery, and a bit of romance thrown in there. If you’re buying this one, get it in hard copy as opposed to on an e-reader, as many e-readers tend to dislike oddly formatted books, of which this is one. But no matter which format you purchase, just purchase it; it’s worth it.

Choice quotes:

“I’d begged them to skip [my birthday] party this year because, among other reasons, I couldn’t think of a single person I wanted to invite, but they worried that I spent too much time alone, clinging to the notion that socializing was therapeutic. So was electroshock, I reminded them.”

“It’s not even a decision, really. You stay. It’s only later- years later- that you begin to wonder what might’ve happened if you hadn’t.”

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Posted on February 2, 2012, in Books, Rachel, Reviews, Young Adult Fiction. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. This book was pretty enjoyable. I too thought some of the photos seemed forced.

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