Reviewed by Sara Hodon
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs
Hardcover: 352 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1594744761, June 2011
Who hasn’t had times when we’ve felt like outsiders? Everyone has had moments where we’ve felt like we didn’t quite belong with our respective friends and family—almost as if we knew there was something special, if not extraordinary, out there waiting for us but we just didn’t know what, so it was our lot in life to just never fit in anywhere.
If you’ve ever felt that way, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is the literary place for you. This truly original debut by filmmaker/photographer/writer Ransom Riggs celebrates those freaks of nature—called “peculiars” throughout the novel—who don’t belong anywhere but with each other.
The story begins innocently enough. Sixteen-year-old Jacob never felt like he fit in with the other kids at school. His best friend, his grandfather Abraham Portman, knows just how he feels. For years Abraham held his grandson spellbound with fanciful tales of his unbelievable childhood, spent in a home for orphans off the coast of Wales. Jacob is sure his grandfather’s stories are just that—stories. Until Abraham shows Jacob his cigar box that contains pictures of some of his housemates. One shows what looks like an empty suit of clothes standing upright, although Jacob is assured the wearer is in there—he’s just invisible. Another shows a little girl who liked to wear tiaras and could levitate. Before long, Jacob has some serious doubts, especially after a devastating tragedy sets him off on a wild adventure to Wales to find his grandfather’s childhood home supervised by the mysterious Miss Peregrine, an old woman described by Abraham as “a big hawk who smoked a pipe”. It is difficult to determine what surprises Jacob more—the fact that he finds the house (strictly by accident as he falls into a porthole that takes him back in time) or when he finds it. Miss Peregrine and her wards perpetually relive the same day over and over again—September 3, 1940, the day England was bombed by the Nazis.
Along the way, Jacob learns that perhaps he is a little too peculiar for the mainstream world and a bit too “ordinary” for the peculiar world—a quandary he needs to put to rest within himself by the end of the book. Worse yet, what happens if these worlds were to collide?
These “peculiars” are certainly fiction, right? Riggs adds another layer of “Are they or aren’t they real?” by building his story around a collection of vintage photographs included throughout the novel that show images of, well, peculiar people in peculiar poses doing peculiar things. While of course the reader understands that this novel is a work of fiction, the photos lend an air of authenticity and realism that says, Perhaps a place like this could exist. Or, even better, Wouldn’t it be nice if a place like this did exist? Miss Peregrine’s home is populated with large and small almost-humans, including a girl who can start fires in the palms of her hands, another girl with a second mouth in the back of her head (called a “backmouth”), and more.
I expected a work that fit more into the horror genre but was very pleasantly surprised to find that the book wasn’t the slightest bit frightening. Slightly eerie, perhaps, but this is more of a fantasy with just a hint of realism. Riggs does an admirable job of creating a protagonist in Jacob whose almost crippling self-image issues threaten to do him in at every turn, but by the end, along with some assistance from his “peculiar” friends, Jacob accepts himself for who and what he is and offers readers a helpful lesson in self-acceptance in the meantime.
About the reviewer: Sara Hodon’s work has appeared in History, Young Money, WritersWeekly.com, and The Valley: Lebanon Valley College’s Magazine, among others. She is also the “Date and Relate” columnist for Online Dating Magazine (www.onlinedatingmagazine.com). Read more about her trials and triumphs in the writing life on her blog, http://adventuresinthewritinglife.blogspot.com