Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs (2011)

January 7th, 2013 1:19 pm by Kelly Garbato

Freaks, Geeks, and Vintage Photography

three out of five stars

As a child, Jacob Portman delighted in his grandfather’s fantastical – yet supposedly autobiographical – stories. Abraham claimed to have lived a rather extraordinary life that began during World War II, when his parents sent him to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. A magical orphanage-slash-boarding school located on a faraway Welsh island, the home was inhabited by a motley crew of children possessing supernatural powers. A girl who could levitate, a boy who burped bees, and human-faced dog (as opposed to a dog-faced boy, I suppose) – these were but a few of the home’s unusual residents. Abe’s contribution? Why, he battled monsters, of course!

Now 16, Jacob recognizes the stories as fiction – at best, fairy tales meant to entertain a child; at worst, a kind of practical joke that hinged on his naivety and willingness to believe. (More astute readers may also identify Abe’s tales as allegories for the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust. Abe’s family – both of them – were decimated during the war.) That is, until his grandfather dies suddenly and under mysteriously circumstances. Abe’s last words to his grandson set Jake on a path that will eventually carry him to the island of Cairnholm – and to Miss Peregrine and her peculiar children.

The highlight of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is, without a doubt, the photographs. Riggs weaves the story around forty-four oddball vintage photographs, culled from the archives of ten collectors (including that of the author himself). The result is both arresting and charming; while the photographs merge seamlessly with the plot, you’ll find yourself wondering about the true context of each. (Some historical background would’ve been awesome, but likely there’s little information to be had – the appendix notes that many of the photos were rescued from “giant bins of unsorted snapshots at flea markets and antiques malls and yard sales.”) Many of the subjects look as though they’d be at home in a David Lynch project. Twins in ruffled collars, I’m looking at you!

– Minor spoilers follow! –

The story is enjoyable enough, though as far as young adult fiction goes, the writing isn’t as sophisticated as some of my genre favorites. (It’s more on par with Harry Potter vs. The Hunger Games.) The story starts out slow but gradually builds steam; the last third of the book is especially action-packed and engaging. The imperfect people and occasionally dysfunctional relationships are another strong point; many readers will recognize a friend or loved one (or perhaps even themselves) in Jacob’s self-defeating father, and Emma’s bittersweet romance with Abe will leave your heart breaking for her – while also emphasizing with Abe for doing what he had to do to stay true to himself.

Additionally, the time travel part of the plot is both entertaining and raises a number of interesting questions – some of which are bound to be lost on younger readers and thus most likely won’t be addressed in the sequel(s) (e.g., what does the 82-year age gap say about Emma and Jacob’s relationship?).

On the downside, I was disappointed by the occasional ableist (“Special Ed”), classist (“redneck”), and sexist (“sissy” or “nancy boy,” I can’t quite remember which) language, which was wholly unnecessary and did nothing to further the story.

While I’ll definitely check out the sequel – which is anticipated in the spring of 2013 – it probably won’t go to the top of my book pile. I may, however, hit a few flea markets myself this summer.

(This review is also posted on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined.)

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