Author: Ransom Riggs
Type: Fiction, novel
Part of series: Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children (#1)
I read it: October 2017
This book rests heavily on its presentation, which is not necessarily a strike against it. When you remove the slipcase, the front of the hardcover has the signature “Alma LeFay Peregrine,” as if you’re about to read a diary. Chapter pages are backed with an antique wallpaper design, and very quickly you see the first of the quirky and unsettling black and white photographs that are strategically placed throughout the book. It’s a good opening to a strange mystery.
Unexpectedly, the initial action does not take place in decades past. The protagonist, Jacob, is a troubled teen from present day Florida, and the vibe at the onset of the book feels a lot like that in Paper Towns. It’s this young man’s grandfather who owns the old photographs and whose mysterious death sets things in motion. Jacob is motivated to travel to a small island in Wales to follow clues about his grandfather’s past and therefore give meaning and clarity to his own life.
The tiny, foggy, boggy little town is a unique setting, although I quickly wondered how the peculiar children would fold into the tale. In short: time travel. Jacob finds a portal and meets orphaned, outcast children who relive one day at the beginning of WWII over and over again.
It was as if the constance of their lives here, the unvarying days—this perpetual deathless summer—had arrested their emotions as well as their bodies, sealing them in their youth like Peter Pan and his Lost Boys.
Unfortunately, it was somewhere in these middle pages that my interest began to wane. The initial meeting of the super-powered children was briefly thrilling: here’s one who is invisible, here’s one who can command plants, here’s one who creates fire in her hands. She turns out to be the love interest for Jacob, and while I can’t blame the two (what’s more romantic than being bound across time and all the sacrifices that come with that situation?), the quickly established love story seemed to take away from the possibilities kindled by these strange kids from eerie photographs. Their existence and talents became somewhat dictated, the action noted but not necessarily felt. There are elements of Harry Potter and X-Men here, but somehow the story lacks the grip of either. We get chase scenes and sub-mysteries, backed by a lot of exposition about the mythology to catch up on and the new creature names to keep straight.
Perhaps the author wanted to pack everything in before he knew that it was to become a trilogy, but I didn’t quite know what to focus on in the book. The protagonist’s existential crisis? The old-timey ways and sayings of the peculiar children? The role of the grandfather and how it ties into the love storyline? The shadowy cabal threatening the children and also all of human life across time? I can’t put my finger on what exactly caused me to simply shrug throughout the reading of it, but the book didn’t turn out to be the modern Halloween classic I was hoping it might.