Synopsis: A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs.
It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here—one of whom was his own grandfather— were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive. – Quirk Books
Yes, sometimes I read YA fiction. I don’t judge a book on whether it’s YA or not, though if I hear described first as “young adult” before hearing the plot I may not be interested. There’s too many books for whom the genre is the point of buying it, and I prefer books with strong characters, gripping language, and interesting new ideas. Which is to say that I’ll read YA if it’s just as good without the label.
When I bought Miss Peregrin’s, I didn’t know that it was marketed for younger people, only that it involved strange children and orphans and monsters. My kind of book! It turned out to be a wonderfully fast read – I started and finished it inside of three hours, though I didn’t do anything else but read during that time. Oddly, the publisher says the book contains 352 pages, while my ebook version only contained 225. I have to admit that after the ending I did a little Googling to make sure that my version wasn’t missing something. As far as I can tell, I have the full book, even down to the author’s notes at the end, but if that’s where the story is supposed to stop … well, we’ll get to that in a minute.
First the pluses: Weird, Cthonic cannibal monsters! Children trapped in time, aging without aging, and all possessing of mystical powers! It’s like X-men, in 1940, without the spandex outfits!
The story starts out perfectly. The narrator, a 16 year old boy, talks about his life before A Very Bad Thing Happened, and then shows how it changed afterwards. He has wealthy parents but not a lot of love or respect from them – or anyone else in his life – and his primary source of comfort and wonder is in the form of his elderly grandfather, who regales him with stories of his strange childhood. Grandpa’s stories might be real, or they might be the fantasies of an old man who survived World War II when no one else in his family did. You can be forgiven for having a bit of fun with your grandson when you’ve lived that long and seen that much, can’t you? Eventually, Jacob has to discover if they’re true, and he does. You want to sell books to teenagers? Give them an outsider hero with secret, hidden, powers, and let him choose when he’s going to leave home, leave school, and go off to be a hero. In that sense, the book does exactly what it was meant to do.
The minuses, however, annoyed me. See, the book ends suddenly, and while it’s billed as “leaving room for a sequel”, it’s not. It’s not like Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye books, which are also YA, also feature weird happenings, and also quite good – those books tell a story, wrap up the story, and leave room for a sequel (several, in fact). What Miss Peregrin’s does is take a story and chop off the end, choosing to put that part into a second book. The worst part is, you know how around the middle of a book it gets a little more insightful and a little (or a lot) less action-oriented? That’s where the book ends. There’s a fight scene, after a whole lot of exposition and teenage romance, and then it just ends. The kids know, possibly, where they need to go, and they’re headed off in that direction, which is great, but the Bad People who did/are plotting Bad Things have not been stopped. The kids aren’t even 100% on how to stop them. They just know that the story isn’t over yet and there’s more that needs to be done.
It’s really too bad that Mr. Riggs didn’t bother to show it to us.
The main character was reasonably believable, but not quite as much as the rest of the characters, who’re all adults – and in most case, elderly people (even the children, who look young but are all 80+). Riggs has the same failings that most adults have when writing about children – he gives them the ability to think and rationalize and deal with emotional issues (like whether to kiss your grandfather’s old girlfriend). Sure, maybe. It’s not impossible, the way that Jacob thinks, but it is unlikely. I love the easy feel of the story, that you don’t have to work too hard to figure out what’s going on, and that Riggs put in enough pop culture references to entertain the adults – things like Jeffrey Dahmer, David Lynch, and Doctor Who. If I had known about the book is set up, I’d have waited until 2013 when the sequel is due out, and read them both at once. The books, together, have been optioned into a movie, and you can bet the movie is going to show both books, the whole story.
I do want to recommend the book … eventually. It’s so disappointing to be handed a book with the last part cut off, but I am sure that when the rest is revealed the whole story will be worth reading. Perhaps, if you know the abrupt cliffhanger is coming, it won’t be so bad?
A note about the photos: The book is sprinkled through with real photographs depicting what appear to be strange acts of magic by children. I didn’t care. The photos are cool, the fact that Riggs was inspired by them is cool, and the fact that he wrote them into the story is cool. However, he describes them in such detail that the actual pictures aren’t necessary, and because there are photos of different people who are supposed to represent a single person, focusing on the images too much can screw up the mental image you’re building in your head.