Thursday, June 16, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Rigg

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, 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 who once lived here—one of whom was his own grandfather—were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive. (Publisher's summary from Goodreads)

Jacob loved listening and believed the imaginative stories of fighting monsters and the peculiar children his grandfather lived with at a Welsh orphanage during the start of WWII. That is until he got old enough to stop believing in Santa Claus and fairy tales. Even his grandfather’s pictures of the invisible boy, a levitating girl, a boy so strong he could lift huge boulders with one hand, and a kid with two mouths one in the back of his head could all be explained away as just tricks of photography.  But when Jacob finds his grandfather dying from deep gashes in his chest, and briefly glimpses the monster from his grandfather’s stories, he completely with draws from life and blames himself, wishing he had believed his grandfather.  His parents send Jacob to a psychiatrist who explains his nightmares and waking fears as acute stress reaction. As Jacob begins to deal with his grandfather’s death, he still cannot forget his grandfather’s dying words, “Find the bird. In the loop. On the other side of the old man’s grave. September third 1940 Emerson---the letter. Tell them what happened.”

Then on his sixteenth birthday his aunt gives him a book she found among his grandfather’s belongings: The Selected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson with a inscription to Jacob. Inside the book is a letter from the headmistress of the orphanage written 15 years prior and suddenly Jacob begins to think that it might be possible to lay to rest his grandfather’s secrets by traveling to  Wales and looking into  his grandfather’s mysterious past.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is the most extraordinary and imaginative tale I have read in a very long time. Ransom Riggs debut novel combines a complex plot filled with unusual characters, historical content and a setting that is atmospheric perfection. Once I began reading, I was completely captivated by the first person narration, which is stunningly simple in its descriptions and realistically encapsulates Jacob’s voice. Jacob’s overwhelming need to make sense of his grandfather’s death and lay to rest the nightmares plaguing him every night drew me in like a moth to a flame and kept me by his side as the mystery surrounding the peculiar children unfolds and takes shape. The addition of authentic, vintage photographs adds an undeniable realism to the story. 

As Riggs slowly reveals, through Jacob’s investigation of the coastal town of Cairnholm, facts about the peculiar children, and the orphanage’s reason for existing, Jacob’s nightmares become real. His interactions with headmistress Miss Peregrine, Emma, and several other orphans added a new dimension and scope to story and increased the suspense.  Jacob eventually must make a difficult decision, not only about his future, but the future of the peculiar children he has befriended and who have befriended him.  The ending was quite surprising and beautifully executed leaving me awed by Riggs talent for subtle foreshadowing.

Riggs one up’s the reader’s ideas of monsters and places before us characters so endearing that like Jacob we come to realize that their lives are worth sacrificing safety. Even though the odds might be against them, the reader cannot help but hope for a happy ending because these characters are now alive  and a part of our psyche. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is brilliantly crafted and is certainly not to be overlooked by readers of all ages.   

 Source: Received copy from Melissa at Quirk Books for review
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