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


title:  Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

author:  Ransom Riggs

pages: 352

format: Hardcover

isbn/asin: 978-1594744761

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 8/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Insomnia by J.R. Johansson, Asylum by Madeleine Roux, Doctor Who, and genre-bending young adult fiction.  And X-men.  

My Ratings Explained

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. 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 were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

the basics
I was improbably excited for this book.  It lived up to the hype but not in the way I'd expected.  You're in for so much more than a ghost story here.  There's magic, history, superpowers, time travel, ghosts, ghouls.   We open on Jacob, normal and unassuming until he witnesses his grandfather's murderer.  His grandfather, who used to tell him bizarre stories until Jacob decided he was lying.  The family narrative is sweet and spurs a slapdash trip to Wales to find the truth behind grandpa's stories.  What Jacob finds is so much weirder than I'd expected.  (I apologize for the vagueness of this review.  I'll be tiptoeing carefully so I don't spoil it.)  The first part of Jacob's exploration is a strange sort of ghost story, with creaky old houses and cracked pictures.  When he finally finds the children, he stumbles into a large, darker war than the one his grandfather fought in.  Riggs offers a good mix of sci-fi/fantasy without sacrificing character development.  Jacob forms complex, deep relationships with the residents of the house, particularly the fiery, cynical Emma.  Everything comes to a head at the end, when disaster after disaster culminates in a huge surprise and a chilling choice.  I wish I could tell you more; you'll just have to read (and love) it for yourself.  

plot . 5/5
A lot goes on in this book and Riggs has excellent control over when to pause and when to race.  Parts remind me of Insomnia by J.R. Johannson.  Jacob is relatively normal but not terribly happy.  He has a best friend by convenience, a clueless and laissez faire mother, a wayward father, a grandfather whose lies have come between them.  It's a compelling set-up.  Lots of people harp on the "outcast" as young adult hero, but I find the trope hopeful.  And appropriate here.  The spark is the death of Jacob's grandfather--grisly, sudden, and mysterious.  Suddenly, Jacob doesn't think his grandfather was lying before.  I liked that first, Jacob spiraled into depression.  I'm not a sadist; I just thought it was so realistic.  Too many books have loss + immediate action, with no time to mourn.  Jacob's devastation showed his deep feeling for his grandfather and made his later spur-of-the-moment trip make sense.  

Scene two, we're in Wales.  A dark, isolated island perfect for a creaky old war-torn house.  Riggs is careful to strew the pages with mystery and clues long before you find out the truth.  The whole time, I felt like I was building up to something.  A ghost.  A demon.  Something dark and strange.  What Jacob actually discovers is so much cooler.  We get a little peaceful time to ooh and aah over the peculiar children and indulge in the fantasy.  These children and teens have strange abilities and odd appearances, like a new kind of circus freak.  I was also happy to see Jacob forming friendships and even a crush--a surprisingly normal, age-appropriate crush.  Then everything goes to hell.  Riggs is certainly not easy on his characters.  He forces Jacob into a choice with no good answer and danger on both sides.  Riggs left me gaping in the aftermath, hungry for book two.  

concept . 5/5
Okay, so Riggs kind of had me at old photographs and World War II.  Then there's the ghost stories.  The premise:  Jacob's grandfather was a war orphan who ended up in an orphanage full of strange children.  Children who could throw fire, become invisible, animate the dead.  Children who are somehow still hiding in that orphanage in Wales, long after the war is over.  How?  Let's say there's some pretty fantastic fantasy involved.  Love Celtic mythology?  You get layers of this too.  If you're expecting a standard ghost story, you may be disappointed.  Or, like me, you'll love the alternative Riggs gives, with dashes of fantasy, science-fiction, and the paranormal.  It's just a really cool concept that shows the depth of Riggs' imagination.  I wish I could say more.  

characters . 5/5
The characters really make this book.  Obviously the plot is exciting and the style is beautiful, but the characters made me care.  Jacob is a little broken.  He's brash, arrogant, and also deeply vulnerable.  When his partly estranged grandfather dies, he falls to pieces--but finds a kernel of hope that if he can only understand, he'll be redeemed for his doubt and disbelief.  He's also just a normal teenage boy.  I totally bought him.  His parents actually get more play than most young adult parents, and for good reason.  They don't get him.  They're selfish.  They're also loving in a clumsy kind of way.  I particularly loved Jacob's father, a writer who's written dozens of unfinished books, who never really figured out what he wanted to be when he grew up.  Who loves his son but is jealous that his son connected with his father in way that he never could.  The family drama piece alone is fascinating.  

Then we meet the residents of the orphanage.  How can I say I love them?  Let me count the ways.  Emma is a weird sort of love interest (you'll see) and also kind of a bitch.  In the best way.  She doesn't mind being abrasive.  She also has a hidden whimsical side that softens her.  She kicks ass without Jacob's help, but she's willing to let him in--eventually.  Miss Peregrine is the darling head mistress, and pretty damn terrifying.  She's obviously loving towards her wards, and she'll also peck your head off if you dare put them at risk.  I wish I could remember more names, but my head is a sieve these days.  There was a side character I particularly enjoyed who an turn himself invisible, and who is a lovely nerdy know-it-all.  

style . 5/5
Now I get to gush.  Riggs has a beautiful writing style.  It's rich, eerie, lush, chilling.  There are places that remind me of poetry, others that deeply horrified me, others that made me laugh actually out loud.  There's also a lot of sarcastic, bantery dialogue.  I mean, have I mentioned enough times that I'm a sucker for snarky banter?  And the dialogue!  It reads like it should!  Like actual teens!  It's surprising how hard that is to find.  There are also some highly evocative descriptions of scenes and places that you could have drawn a postcard of in your head.  I dog-eared at least ten pages, which is a sign of some really excellent quotables.  Just beautiful.  I can see why he's married to Tahereh Mafi.  

mechanics . 5/5
Old photographs!  I fell in love with the photo narrative in In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters and Riggs uses it to equal effect.  For Riggs, the photos illustrate some of the bizarre characters we meet.  I can just imagine Riggs going through old photographs, finding the strangest ones, and inventing an even stranger character around them.  I only wish there were more photos, because I'm a junkie.  

take home message
A genre-bending novel with deeply lovable characters, a unique fantastical plot, and a chilling accompaniment of vintage photographs.     

Note: I purchased this copy.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

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