The creepy old photos collaged onto the cover of Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children got my attention, almost against my will. I picked it up knowing full well the adage of book covers and what one was never to do with them; but as one with a bent for the macabre and unusual, I couldn’t resist. Could you?
The front flap described a mysterious tale of danger, fantastic beasts, peculiar children, curious photos, and a dash of time travel. That sounded good to me, so I looked a little farther. A quick flip through text revealed more of the bizarre photos peppered throughout. I was worried they were a gimmick–a cheap trick to get me to buy a book with weak content. The back flap acknowledged this to be Ransom Riggs’ first novel, but his listed writing credits made me think it could be worth a shot. The favorable reviews online and a bookstore recommendation gave me the push I needed to make the purchase. I can tell you now that you can skip the agonizing and just read this book.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a story about a 16-year-old boy who “had just come to accept that [his] life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen” (Riggs, 8). For his entire life, Jacob Portman had listened to his grandfather tell fanciful accounts of his flight from Poland during the second World War and of the children’s home where he took refuge. This home was a sanctuary from foreign monsters and a wonderland where peculiar children lived–invisible, floating, freakishly strong, fire-conjuring children. Jacob had outgrown his grandfather’s stories years earlier; however, the young man is forced to reassess Grandpa Portman’s cries of “monsters!” after discovering his grandfather’s mutilated body in the woods. A final cryptic message upon the dying man’s lips and a glimpse of a nightmarish creature lurking in the trees both send Jacob on a desperate quest to discover the true story of his grandfather’s life, which leads him to Wales, the children’s home, and a strange snag in the fabric of time–oh, and straight into the jaws of danger.
I was immediately taken by this novel. Riggs writes with ease, bringing his story to life with original, contemporary imagery–picturesque scenes resembling desktop wallpaper, for example. This functions not only to give his protagonist-narrator a realistic voice but a distinctly modern one with which his young readers may more readily connect. There was an honestly in Jacob’s characterization that one might expect from a Nick Hornby novel, which makes him a sympathetic figure and one that will appeal to teen boys in particular. While the notion of a skeptical hero who must accept difficult truths in order to fulfill his destiny is ages old, Riggs offers up a refreshing rendering of this convention.
Thoroughly conceptualized, Miss Peregrine is well-plotted and moves at a quick clip, propelled by intrigue and suspense. It does not sacrifice substance to incorporate the strange photographs and time travel–my pre-purchase fear. Both serve to enhance the story, helping to flesh out present day mysteries and past conundrums. I especially liked how well the story fit its framework, never functioning merely as a vehicle for a larger, epic tale but existing in its own right. And while there is a larger narrative gradually encroaching on Jacob’s, the heart of the story is inexorably his story.
This is one of the rare times that I am happy to know a sequel is in the works. Riggs most definitely got my attention, and I believe he is worthy of yours.