I’ve wanted to read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs ever since its release in 2011. Now, there are two sequels to complete the trilogy and a movie coming out on September 30! So, I’m glad I finally had a chance to read this popular and well-received book. It is, without a doubt, the most unusual – peculiar? – book I’ve ever read! But this teen/YA supernatural fantasy is also suspenseful and compelling.
Sixteen-year old Jacob grew up listening to his grandfather’s fantastical stories of growing up among monsters. According to Grandpa Portman, he’d had to leave Poland at age twelve to go live in an orphanage in Wales, with enchantments to keep its young residents safe from monsters. Oddly, Grandpa claimed that the other children in the home had all kinds of special powers, making them what he called “peculiar.” Grandpa even had a box of old snapshots that he shared with Jacob of his old friends: an invisible boy (which looked like an empty suit of clothes in the photo), a girl levitating off the ground, and a brother and sister so strong they could lift boulders in the air with ease. There were plenty more crazy photos, with an even crazier story accompanying each one.
Jacob fully believed everything his grandfather told him when he was young, but when classmates began teasing him about believing in fairy tales at school, he gave up his childish beliefs. He asked his dad about Grandpa’s stories, and he explained that they were just exaggerations, built on a horrible childhood. There had been real monsters then – the Nazis – and his dad explained that the children’s home in Wales probably seemed like a paradise and safe haven compared to Poland at the time. He further guessed that the childrens’ only real peculiarity was their Jewishness back then.
When a family tragedy occurs, Jacob and his father head to Wales to find out more about Grandpa’s childhood. Although his dad is more interested in the unusual birds inhabiting the small island off the coast (he’s an ornithologist), Jacob explores on his own. He finds the old house on the deserted side of the island, crumbling and decrepit, and digs through it for clues to his grandfather’s time here. He finds more odd photos and even his grandpa’s old room. Oddest of all, though, is the possibility that some of the same children might still be here, in hiding.
I won’t divulge any more of the plot (and was careful to stay away from spoilers even in this brief synopsis) because one of the delights of this unique book is in uncovering its secrets one by one. Jacob’s explorations become more and more dangerous, as he digs into the secrets of the past…and the present. The climax of the story coincides with an enormous storm hitting the island, adding to the suspense.
|Back cover of Miss Peregrine's Home...|
I haven’t yet mentioned the most amazing and unique thing about this book. The photos – that Jacob’s Grandfather shows him and that Jacob later finds in the house – are real. Real-life real. The author found them by scouring through thousands and thousands of vintage photographs and includes several dozen of them in the book, to illustrate the story. He basically discovered these unusual photos and then built the story around them, a fact that made the book all the more fascinating to me.
Reading this supernatural fantasy tale is a singular experience, and I found myself studying each photo as it appeared. I was also completely engrossed in the original story and was rooting for Jacob to find some answers for himself. The novel is full of adventure and suspense, supernatural surprises, and a bit of magic, but it is all wrapped up in a gripping story of a modern teen, trying to come to terms with his family history and his own place in the world. I loved every minute and can’t wait to read books two and three…and see the movie, of course!
348 pages, Quirk Books
I was going to include the movie trailer here in my blog post, but I think it gives away far too much of the plot, if you haven’t read the book yet. So, go enjoy the book first (before September 30)!
If you have already read the book, check out the movie trailer at this link. It looks like they’ve taken a few liberties with the story, but Tim Burton is the director, so he adds his own brand of magic.