What I’m Reading: MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN by Ransom Riggs

Vintage photos so creepily wonderful, you might want to read the book solely for them.

Summary from the inside jacket:

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very peculiar photographs.

A horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales where he discovers Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that Miss Peregrine’s 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.

I read this book for Tracey’s Neithercott’s Fall Book Club, and also because I was dying to read it myself. But since many people reading this review will be Fall Book Club readers that have also finished the novel, I wanted to announce that there are spoilers ahead. I will be sure to call out when they start.

OK. Where to begin? How about the cover. That beautiful and eerie photograph of the levitating child really does set the stage for this novel. I think that was my favorite thing about this book; Riggs’* inclusion of these creepy vintage snapshots blend so well with the mysterious elements of the tale. And I’m a huge fan of experiments that bring unique story-telling methods to life within a text.

Jacob’s tale begins with his grandfather, who tells stories about a peculiar island, filled with peculiar children, under the care of a peculiar headmistress. Hearing Riggs describe one of these children, followed by an actual visual, is incredibly powerful.

The dynamics between Jacob, his father, and his grandfather are wonderful. There’s also a psychological layer in the beginning – Jacob wondering if he’s seeing things, if his grandfather was crazy, if the photos can possibly be real – that I absolutely loved. Pacing and mystery in the first third of the novel is spot-on. But for me, things changed when Jacob gets to the island and begins to unravel the truths of Miss Peregrine’s “home,” and the children that live there. I still enjoyed the story, but the pictures began to feel like obvious plot points. They were there to string the story together rather than to support the story as they did originally.

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At the end of the day, Miss Peregrine’s “home” is a school for the gifted, much like Professor Xavier’s is in X-Men. Each child on the island embodies a certain power. Invisibility. Fire-wielding. Levitation. I really enjoyed reading about these traits, but beyond Jacob and Emma, I felt that many of the supporting characters fell flat. They were defined by their powers, rather than their personalities.

I also felt that the X-Men plotline (plus the time-traveling – did I mention there’s endless loops of the same day and time-traveling?) over-powered the quiet creepiness that existed in the beginning of the novel. Where things were once wonderfully eerie, they began to feel fun, but juvenile. Almost MG. Truthfully, if the dark vintage images were pulled out, this book may have been a delightful MG romp.

Maybe this is why I am so torn. I really liked the visuals. And I enjoyed the underlying story. But it felt like two competing things woven together.

Genre and gelling issues, aside, the setting is lovely. The present-day island is vivid and real. I could see the rugged landscape and the rotting, crumbling house. Jumping back to 1940 was also fascinating. Visuals of war planes and U-boats and the ever-present threat of bombing makes the world behind the loop seem that much more real. And the book has a bit of everything: suspense, romance**, action, adventure, horror, mystery. I think it would be hard for someone to pick up this book and not find something they like within the pages.

I’m not sure if I’ll pick up the sequel to PEREGRINE, but I am anxiously looking forward to Riggs’ TALKING PICTURES, which is due out in early 2012. More of the creepy, macabre vintage photos, please!

What did you all think, book club participants? Yay? Nay? Something in the middle? Tell me in the comments!

* Did I mention this man has the best name ever?
** I will say there was a bit of an ick factor for me with Jacob & Emma, though. I just couldn’t get fully behind that love interest.

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