Friday, October 21, 2011

Book Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs
Quirk Books
348 pages

"When I was a kid, Grandpa Portman's fantastic stories meant it was possible to live a magical life. Even after I stopped believing in them, there was still something magical about my grandfather. To have endured all the horrors he did, to have seen the worst of humanity and have your life made unrecognizable by it, to come out of all that the honorable and good and brave person I knew him to be - that was magical."  (pg. 88) 

If I had to choose one book I've read this year that I consider to be one of the most brilliant, well-written, and original books EVER, then Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is it. There is so much to say about this one that I hardly know where to begin.

Sixteen-year old Jacob Portman and his grandfather Abe have a special relationship. They're connected in a way that transcends familial bonds, and in a way that mystifies (and maddens) Jacob's emotionally-distant parents. Their closeness allows Jacob to become curious about his grandfather's past, about the "peculiar" children he grew up with (and the reasons for their peculiarity) and why they still so much a part of Abe's life today.

Abe's past is one spent in a children's home (that would be Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children), located off the coast of Wales.  Jacob and his orinithologist father travel to this remote island for two purposes: bird-watching and research for the father and for Jacob, to discover the origins of the stories his grandfather held close to his heart while cryptically sharing details with Jacob.  What begins as Abe's story continues as Jacob's, and as he discovers truths he never imagined, author Ransom Riggs takes his reader right there to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.

"Peculiars" are people who have extraordinary physical and mental abilities.  These children levitate. Fly. See monsters. Have bees living inside of them. They're among us and separate at the same time, living on the island of Cairnholm off the coast of Wales.  Visiting them, as Jacob does, becomes a magical mystery tour of the most fantastical kind, one filled with "ymbrynes" and "wights" and "hollowgasts" - people who are coming to take Jacob away as well as those who want him to stay with the children at the Home forever.  Doing so means that Jacob becomes part of their "loop," a single day-in-the-life of all the residents (September 3, 1940) that repeats, continually, until the end of time. It is a day that is part of Jacob's grandfather's own story and as such, woven into Jacob's.

I don't want to say too much more about this, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention the photographs.

Among the many qualities that make this story extraordinary is the inclusion of 50 photographs of children doing the exact things (levitating, appearing in duplicate via reflections when there is only one person) that the children at Miss Peregrine's do.  At right is an example of one from the book. Discovering that these are real photographs (all unaltered, except for one or two) that were found and curated by author Ransom Riggs (and other photo collectors) and woven into the narrative only adds to the spookiness surrounding this novel.

Some have criticized Riggs for his inclusion of the photographs, but they do more than add an element of truth and authenticity to this novel. As wonderful as Riggs's writing is in this book (his first novel, and an absolute triumph at that!), it is the photographs that enhance the feeling that one gets while reading this.  They're absolutely essential.

They levitate his words.

I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking something along the lines like: damn, Melissa ... this sounds way off the beaten path of things you typically read.  And you'd be right in thinking that because Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is, in fact, very different than my usual literary fare.  But something about this one (maybe all the rave reviews from bloggers) intrigued me enough to add this to my want-to-read list and I am oh-so-glad they did.

(And I'm not usually a sequel person, but I already can't wait to read more about these peculiar children.  Ransom Riggs's next installment of this story is due out in Spring 2013.)

Mark my words: this is perhaps one of the best possible books you can read now, in these days leading up to Halloween and as the weather turns colder and the days grow dark.  This is the perfect book to read by a fire, or cuddled up in a blanket on the couch with a glass of tea or cider.  You get the idea.

Now. Go get the book.*

* As much as I love my e-reader, DON'T get this one in the e-version.  You want to experience this one in print, because of the photographs.  Trust me.

What Other Bloggers Thought:

Capricious Reader

Fyrefly's Book Blog

Jenn's Bookshelves

Stainless Steel Droppings  (Carl is once again hosting the immensely popular and fun R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril reading challenge on his blog, and it is for this challenge that I decided to read Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. 

Urban Bachelorette

(There are about a million other reviews of this out there on the blogs ... did I miss yours?)

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Anonymous said...

You are so right about getting a hard copy of this book. An ereader couldn't even come close!

Cozy in Texas said...

This book has intrigued me. Thanks for the review.

Kate said...

Hey there! Just a quick note to let you know I linked this post over at Kate's Library in my "Friday Five". Have a great weekend! (A little late - I was behind!)