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

Monday, January 7th, 2013

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! –

(More below the fold…)