Sunday, December 11, 2011

Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Published:  Quirk Publishing, 2011
Series: Book 1 of its series
Awards Nominated: Locus YA Award

The Book:

“Jacob has always been a loner, but he shares a special bond with his grandfather.  When he was very small, his grandfather told him fantastical stories about a home for children with supernatural abilities.  He also described the terrifying creatures that hunted these children.  Jacob’s grandfather illustrated these stories with strange vintage photographs (included in the novel). 

By the time Jacob was a teenager, he’d learned not to believe in the stories.  Instead, he assumed the monsters were an allusion to the horrors his Jewish grandfather had faced during the Holocaust, and the magic children came from his rosy memories of the Welsh refugee home where he spent part of his childhood.
When tragedy strikes, Jacob is forced to reconsider everything.  Could his grandfather's stories be literally true? The only way to find out will be to make his way to the children’s home of his grandfather's youth.” ~Allie

 I read this novel as a part of Calico Reaction Blog’s Alphabet Soup Challenge.  I have to admit, I had expected this to be a stand-alone novel.  However, it is very clearly the start of a series.  In fact, it is almost a novel of exposition—it is mainly concerned with introducing the premise of the series and setting the stage for future adventures. While the ending concludes a character arc for the protagonist, it is more of a ‘good stopping-place’ than an ending of the central story.

My Thoughts:

The premise of the story is interesting, if not original.  The story, featuring persecuted magical children hunted by soulless hollows and wights, seems to take some influences from various other franchises, such as X-men and the anime BleachMiss Peregrine’s does throw in a few unexpected twists, though, most notably in its use of time travel.  I enjoyed the atmosphere of the beginning of the story, which depicted Jacob’s life with his wealthy family in Florida and his journey to Wales. 
My interest waned a bit as the mysteries were revealed.  I felt that it lost much of its eerie atmosphere, and essentially became a ‘Good vs. Evil’ teenage adventure story.

The photographs scattered throughout the text were a creative touch.  Apparently, these are actual vintage ‘found’ photographs, and some of them are rather bizarre.  The photos represent physical objects Jacob comes across throughout the story, which is an intriguing change from conventional illustration.  However, in a weird streak of redundancy, each picture is also carefully described in the text.  Though I appreciate the creativity of the approach, the photos did not really work for me.  It often felt like the story was forced into odd asides, simply to incorporate the pictures into the text. I wish the pictures had felt more as if they fit into the natural flow of the story.

The story is told from the first-person viewpoint of 16-year-old Jacob.  I found him to be something of a self-absorbed brat with a sense of entitlement. He has a pretty cushy life, but he spends most of his time whining about it*. Despite my annoyance with Jacob, I like that he has a lot of room for personal growth throughout this series.   However, I have some overall issues with the depth and consistency of characterization in this novel.  Jacob and his father both feel fairly well developed, but this does not extend to the rest of the large cast.  The peculiar children are fairly one-note, and no one else is present long enough to make much of an impression. Some characters seem extraneous, though I assume they will become important later in the series. In terms of consistency, the characters’ actions sometimes seemed designed to move the plot along, even at the cost of discarding previously established character traits.

Lastly, I was not altogether convinced of the internal consistency of the novel’s world. As I mentioned, there is time travel involved.  I think time travel is actually really difficult to do well in a novel, and it is crucial to spell out the rules of time travel in your particular fictional world and then to stick to them. In some stories, for instance, history is robust and can’t be changed, in some the tiniest alteration can wildly affect the future, and in others every decision splits off a parallel universe. In Miss Peregrine’s, the different hints we get about the working of time travel do not seem to be consistent with one another.  Of course, this may well be explained in more detail in later installments. 

My Rating: 3/5

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children has some similarities to popular stories, like X-men, but it has enough of its own quirks to set it apart.  It’s important to note that this is the first novel in what is intended to be a series, and so it mostly sets the stage for future adventures.  The use of photographs as illustrations was interesting, but I too often felt that the story was being contorted to fit the photos.  Jacob is not an altogether sympathetic character, but I think he has plenty of room to grow and mature throughout the series.  I was somewhat bothered by inconsistency in characterization and apparent inconsistencies in the world-building, but these may well be explained away in the sequel.  Overall, it’s an interesting debut novel, but I’m not sure that this will be a series for me.

*Spoiler, example of Jacob’s personality (highlight to read): One example of his general personality is given in the first chapter, at his part-time job in a store his family owns.  He doesn’t want to work there, but he knows his ‘boss’ can’t fire him.  Therefore, he acts as though it is a game to make his coworkers’ lives miserable.  I’m sure many people who’ve worked in retail can vividly imagine this kind of behavior.

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