Title: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Series: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children #1
Author: Ransom Riggs
Genre: young adult fiction, fantasy
Published: June 7, 2011
Rating: 5 stars
Purchase this book: The Book Depository
The story is about a sixteen year old named Jacob who lives in a suburbian Town in Florida. During his childhood, his grandfather told him stories about an orphan house he lived in during the war and the people he met there. He also shows Jacob a collection of photographs from the orphan children, who happen to be peculiar, displaying an array of supernatural traits. Jacob is skeptical even as a child but as he grows old he begins to despite his grandfather and his stories, thus becoming distant to the person that cared for him the most. After some tragic events that occur near his sixteenth birthday, Jacob decides to travel to Wales and discover the truth behind his grandfather’s fairytales.
Enchanting, imaginative, and with a dose of the gothic. These are the words that first come to mind when I think of the novel. I watched the movie before reading the novel but neither changed the love I have for the other, which is great. I already knew about the characters and some of the plot twists; still, I was fascinated and surprised many times. So let’s discuss the novel.
While it had a bit of a slow beginning, with an over-emphasis on Jake’s boring, suburbian life, around page 30 or so things began to get very interesting. I loved the lyrical language that Riggs uses on descriptions, a language that I found to be a bit more British, although that might have only been my impression. The accent I found in some of the characters reminded me of Hagrid from Harry Potter. Jake’s own language reminded be of the one used in classics, too cultured for a 16 year old living in Florida in the 21st Century. However, this use of formal, descriptive, and cultured language is one of the things that I appreciated the most in the novel. Many contemporary novels lack good language and in Miss Peregrine I found one that was fascinatingly challenging. Props to Riggs for using it. It also left me wondering if it was intended as it is suggested that Jake is living at the wrong time 😉
The tone of the novel vacillates between fascination for the magical world and nostalgia for routine, thus displaying a very mature moral conflict of whether to abandon either one. There is a heartbreaking moment at the beginning and one at the very end, which I won’t spoil, but that depict the rawness of life, with its good and bad moments. The first sets off the entire journey to Wales and the second opens the path to the next novel. The tone is melancolic, oppressive, and very realistic. Whoever has experienced what is narrated in those sections can relate to what is described. Talking about the maturity of Jake’s perspective, I enjoyed the conflict of whether to leave home or not. As fascinating as the magical world is and the many things Jake has to look forward to, it is still true that there is a deep ingrained pain when considering the life he would leave behind. The decision is not easy and he is aware of the heaviness that he will carry in his heart with either choice as there are consequences with each. This conflict is something I’ve been dealing with at the moment (although not in a glamorous magical world) so I can relate to it.
I also really liked Jake as a narrator, as he witticims had me cracking up from time to time. He is a smartass and often has a clever response to mundane things. He is also very down-to-earth and it was interesting to see in his descriptions the real perspective of a 16 year old, with all the idioms that teens begin to use, especially vulgar language. It was funny and realistic.
I loved the setting overall as the atmosphere of the gothic permeated, eerie and uncanny. Even in sunny Florida and 1940’s Wales, the abundance of color and apparent happiness are portrayed as “too good to be true”. You get the feeling that there is something wrong, and indeed there is. Riggs shows a high knowledge of the gothic, featuring elements such as the uncanny, the doppelganger, the eerie atmosphere, the secrecy, the moral conflict. Many of these elements are explicitly told, which shows the deliberateness of the story. I also noticed a direct quote from Dracula (if you know me, you’ll know how happy this made me) when Jake says “a stranger in a strange land”. I loved that. There are also many similarities with Big Fish, although I’m not sure if those were intended or just a reflection of the influence the novel/movie might have had on the author. Either way, it shows that the author has many literary and cultural references and that his novel has a purpose, which I appreciate.
The pictures are very interesting and sinister. I loved that Riggs wrote the novel inspired by them, as a type of exercise on ekphrasis. I read the novel on my Kindle, which didn’t produce the same effect but I still enjoyed the pictures. I want to buy the physical book and definitely reread it and look at the printed photos because I believe that they add to the story.
I 100% recommend this novel to teen and adult audiences. I would not recommend it to children because it is not intended for them and the themes that it deals with would not suit a younger audience. This novel restored my faith in contemporary writers. I am in love with Rigg’s poetical prose and I see in him an inspiration. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a slow read but that’s the beauty of it, so make a cup of tea and let yourself be fascinated.