While I’ve never made a bag of bones about my fondness for the work of Stephen King, it’s understandable that not everyone shares my appreciation for his books. With Halloween around the corner, bibliophiles looking for something to get them into the spirit of the supernatural season might enjoy the book Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children.
Written by Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children was published in 2011 by the aptly-named Quirk Books, and fits in perfectly with the publishing company’s growing library of oddball titles, among them Wedding Dogs, Lovecraft Middle School,Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Night of the Living Trekkies, and William Shakespeare’s Star Wars.
Without giving away too much, Miss Peregrine’s tells the story of a young boy named Jacob who loves the tales told to him by his grandfather, Abe, a WWII veteran and Jewish refugee.
The stories Abe spins to Jacob are more than just the Three Little Pigs and Goldilocks, as his tales are populated with fantastic — and scary — monsters and characters and children with peculiar abilities: one levitates, another is invisible, one boy can lift boulders with ease, one boy eats using a mouth in the back of his head, and another had a swarm of bees living inside him.
Hardly your typical Once upon a time… bedtime stories.
Following a horrific family tragedy, Jacob has to follow clues which lead him to an abandoned orphanage on a Welsh island — one which may or may not have housed the colorful characters his grandfather told him about, and which may lead to an even bigger mystery still.
Saying much more than this would spoil many of the pleasantly spooky surprises hidden within the pages of Miss Peregrine’s, but through Jacob the reader is drawn into and dives deeper into the adventure and the mystery. Not technically a horror story, Miss Peregrine’s is full of intrigue, and is frequently creepy, particularly the photographic illustrations, all authentic pictures taken in the early 20th century. The photographs, which purportedly are snapshots of the characters and events told within the book, are especially effective (and frequently unsettling), and all of them come from the personal archives and collections of private owners (listed in the afterward by the author).
Riggs tells the story through a combination of narrative and the aforementioned photographs, expertly crafting an eerie anticipation and build-up throughout the story. As a read goes, it is paced a little on the slower side, but never so much that it drags, and as far as atmosphere, there’s a permeating sense that something’s not quite right — a sense of dread that Jacob (and the reader) unravel throughout the book’s 352 pages.
And as for Miss Peregrine herself — suffice it to say that when her secret is revealed, the reader may never look at birds in the same way again.
While many elements of the book have been used before — if you could imagine a pre-teen group of X-Men led by a Charles Xavier who’s more magic than mutant, you would get the idea. Here, they feel like they’re being incorporated for the first time. The magical elements (although hardly on the same level of Harry Potter) were compelling and well-infused into the narrative, blurring the lines of fantasy and reality to the point that it was difficult at times to know where one began and the other ended.
The characters (and there are many) are exceptionally well-developed, especially Jacob and Miss Peregrine herself, each standing out as individual voices, not just devices thrown in for the plot. I would have liked for there to have been more backstory told about some of them, but this lack of explanation only adds to the intrigue.
All in all, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is a wonderfully original and inventive book with colorful characters, a mysterious tale woven together with threads of historical relevance, and incorporating unforgettable vintage photographs which bring the story to life.
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is written for young adults, but can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.