Fantasy, Fiction, Series & Collections, Young Adult

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

miss p book cover with borderSomewhere between the X-Men comics and the movie Groundhog Day lies the story of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, a debut novel for its author.

Aimed at teens, this book begins by introducing us to Jacob Portman, an introverted young man with no direction who works at a drug store.  The caveat is that his family owns the drug store and hundreds just like it.  Like many teens who come from considerable wealth, Jacob values little and has no direction, secure in the knowledge that his family’s money will always support him.  His circle consists of his heiress mother, frustrated father, condescending psychologist, and a grandfather he adores.

His grandfather, Abe, who was a survivor of the Nazi regime, grew up in a children’s home.  Never knowing which stories to believe, Jacob was entertained by Abe’s collection of freaky vintage photographs.  The photos, taken long before Photoshop existed, contain images that have clearly been manipulated in some way.  Or have they?  A girl who floats in air, another who holds a ball of fire in her hand, these cannot be real, right?

Jacob’s life is suddenly sent into a tailspin when he witnesses his grandfather’s death, which is both horrific and mysterious. Using his grandfather’s last words as his guide, Jacob begins a quest to find out the truth about the man he loved most in the world and where he came from.

It is on this quest that the story and setting changes dramatically, from a posh Florida suburb to a tiny island near Wales.  Everything Jacob knows about home, family and himself is about to change.

I was riveted for the first half of the book. Any story that takes its protagonist on the journey this one does is going to hold your attention. The plot is definitely unique and has the makings for a film, which I read is already being made.  My issue is character development.  Jacob and Emma–a “peculiar” child who takes center stage–are developed well, but don’t make us care about them much. (In reading other reviews I know I’m in the minority when I say that.) The other peculiar children are difficult to keep track of, as in which one has which peculiar ability. (Some “peculiarities” are a bit disturbing.) And one of the most important characters, Miss Peregrine herself, feels like a mystery even at the book’s end.  The person I found myself caring about the most, Jacob’s father, had no ending to his plot line.

Two things are clear by the end. This story is an outline for a film and it is going to have a sequel (available 1/14/14.)  But it could have been so much more.  And, in a shameless comparison with the Harry Potter series, JK Rowling showed us that you can have magnificent writing in modern times without profanity.  Riggs seems to want to make friends with his readers by peppering the book with words you hear kids say today.  If the writing is of high enough quality, you can connect with today’s teens without doing that.

Overall, Miss Peregrine is an interesting story that did not meet its full potential. However, I am curious to see where the sequel takes us.

8 out of 10 stars

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