Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I just finished my second read-through of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and it was just as good as the first time. When I first picked it up, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it looked like it could be quite a bit of fun, and after reading a bit about the author I was quite excited about it.

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of curious photographs. 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. (Summary “borrowed” from Goodreads.)

Let’s get one thing out of the way right up front – this is not a horror story. While parts of it are gripping, suspenseful, and a bit dark, and while there is a bit of violence, this book does not strike me as a horror novel in any way. But because of the two scenes that are rather violent, I would recommend it for preteens and up.

From the first several chapters you’re immediately interested in Jacob and his grandfather, especially. Jacob grows up listening to his grandfather’s tall tales, about life on a faraway island with a group of orphans, all of whom had special abilities. After Jacob witnesses something totally bizarre, he tries to tell the authorities around him – the police, his parents, etc. – and is totally ignored, eventually being sent to talk to a psychiatrist. Searching for answers, he travels to the island in the stories, hoping to discover something about his grandfather’s early life. Layer by layer he takes apart the mystery of the past, and he discovers more than he may have bargained on. More than that I cannot say.

However I can say that this is an excellent book, well-written and perfect for any lover of adventures that keep you guessing. The setting and the characters truly live, holding you in the book’s world, and never wanting to leave. It’s dark in places, but full of hope and messages about friendship and working as a family, even if maybe you aren’t family.

What really intrigued me though were the photographic illustrations. And that’s where the author, Ransom Riggs comes in. Ransom Riggs has a hobby. He collects old photographs, “rescuing images of historical significance and arresting beauty from obscurity – and most likely, the dump.” He collects them, not because they’re of family, or special in any other way but that they strike him as special – pieces of the past he can’t stand to let disappear. Something about this struck me, long before I read the book. I watched his little video, “Talking Pictures” and it really moved me. Quite possibly because I have a hobby. I collect old photographs.

But the photographs I’ve been collecting over time have all been somehow connected to family, and piece by piece I’m building an album covering the last hundred years of my family. It’s not easy because often I run across a face no one now alive knows anymore. But there was some time they meant something to someone. And so I keep them in a special hoard, of vintage photos that strike me for some reason, even though they mean nothing to me personally or historically. After watching Talking Pictures I branched out. I don’t have many yet, but someday I might have a neat little collection. The whole notion totally appeals to me, a lover of history, the past, classic films, and better times. The video (below) is only a few minutes long, but very much worth watching.

Ransom Riggs illustrated the entire book with vintage found photographs, some from his collection, some from the collections of other people that do the same things. And it adds such an odd little touch that makes the whole book seem different and unique.

The only thing (other than a bit of violence) that keeps Miss Peregrine from being a good children’s book is a small amount of profanity. Not quite as bad as The Book Thief, but enough that I noticed it in the beginning. The odd part? After the first third of the book, there’s no more language, proof that it wasn’t necessary in the first place. And from what I’ve heard, there’s no more in the rest of the series. Really though, it’s nothing that can’t be fixed Mom-style, with a bottle of whiteout. Lovers of good kids-lit, lovers of historical fiction, and lovers of adventure should all consider picking this book up.

And the last week or so, Brother #3 (also a fan) and I have been avidly scouring the internet for the latest little snippets of news about the film. I don’t know why I’m bothering to be excited but I am. I never enjoy movies based on books I like, but I can’t help but hope this one will be different.

Do you know this book? Interested in reading it?

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