Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs

photo-5Book Description (Amazon):

A mysterious island.

An abandoned orphanage.

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 were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive. 

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: decent

Overall I thought this book was pretty good. It is a little slow to get into, which I feel is unusual for a young adult novel, and although this book is a series, I did not compelled to read any additional books after this one.

Also this book is listed as a “horror” book which I don’t understand at all. Harry Potter was far scarier, and I doubt you see that listed as “horror”.

Jacob Portman grew up hearing stories about incredible things from his grandfather Abe. Abe escaped Poland the Nazis at a young age, taking refuge on an island in the UK. While there, he met a variety of kids who had special skills including levitation, incredible strength, and invisibility (among others). The island was designed to protect the children from the monsters.

As Jacob grew older, he began to disbelief his grandfather, looking closer at the pictures that his grandfather had showed him and seeing how they were merely photo manipulations. He and his grandfather began to drift further apart especially as his grandfather became more senile in his old age. One day at work, sixteen year old Jacob receives a frantic call from his grandfather asking where the key is to his munition cabinet. (Jacob’s father has taken it for Abe’s protection but Jacob is not supposed to tell him this.) Jacob decides to leave work and go check on his grandfather, and as his mother’s family owns the entire company that he works for, he’s allowed to do that.  He gets his friend to pick him up, and they head to Abe’s house.

On the way to the house, Jacob sees a blind man, with solid white eyes in his grandfather’s neighborhood which seems a bad omen. When they arrive at his grandfather’s house, Abe is nowhere to be found. Eventually Jacob sees a light in the backyard and finds Abe there nearly dead. Before dying, his grandfather tells Jacob to go to the island so that he can be safe. “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.” And then Jacob sees a monster straight out of a nightmare which Ricky does not see but fires his gun at it anyway.

Jacob ends up confused by his grandfather’s message and severely depressed not only by the death of his grandfather but also by the sight of the monster that no one else saw. He ends up in extensive therapy with Doctor Golan who encourages Jacob to explore the meaning of his grandfather’s message. When Jacob is about to give up, his aunt gives him a birthday present that she found while cleaning out his grandfather’s house. It’s The Selected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. As he opens it, an envelope slips out that he sneaks off to read. It was a letter to his grandfather from the headmistress of the school whose name was Peregrine. Jacob deduced that she could be the bird that his grandfather referred to (since a peregrine is a type of bird) especially since his grandfather had also mentioned Emerson. Jacob decides to ask his parents if he can go visit the island that his grandfather stayed on so that he can get some closure with his death. His parents are loaded, so with endorsement from the shrink, Jacob and his father leave for the Welsh island for a few weeks.

They head to the island finding very little except farming. Jacob attempts to find the school, but all that is left is remains. That part of the island was bombed on September 3, 1940 (the same date his grandfather mentioned), and the school was destroyed. He speaks to a few older people in the town to try to get information, but no one seems to know what happened to the children or to the headmistress. Jacob decides to return again to the school because he doesn’t understand why the postcard on the letter from the headmistress is only fifteen years old and as he is in the basement, he accidentally (uh, ok) finds himself in 1940. He follows the children who he knows from the photographs and one of the girls, Emma, captures him and leads him to the headmistress.

The headmistress explains that she has seen Jacob already on the island–in her bird form. He tells her that his grandfather used to live there, and she explains that it will worry the other kids to tell them what happened to him. Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather, left to fight in the war. He felt he couldn’t let everyone down. He left the other kids (who were stuck in some sort of magical loop created by Miss Peregrine) and especially Emma, who was his sweetheart. The children, and Miss Peregrine, are called “peculiars” and they all have a sort of special talent, so to speak. (Miss Peregrine is more specifically called a “ymbryrne” since she can convert into a bird. Yymbrynes are only women, and lead the colonies of peculiars. They sound somewhat like nuns.)

Jacob meets the other kids, and then at the end of the evening, he witnesses the restart of the loop. After the loop restarts, he returns back to modern day.

He continues to spend every day in 1940 and return to the present every night. His father is slipping further and further into a drunken depression, making it easier for Jacob to return to the past. He learns that the other kids cannot leave the past for more than a very short period of time because they age too quickly in the present–essentially catching up to the age that they would be. He also learns that he too is a peculiar (common people can’t pass through the time loops), and he has the same skill as his grandfather. He can see the monsters.

Jacob realizes that the monster he saw when his grandfather died is real and that there are more out there who are hunting the peculiars. Miss Peregrine’s two brothers were among the group who created the monsters. They believed that they would be able to time travel in a different way than the time loops–jumping back and forth between past and future. When they attempted the experiment, they returned from their time travel as a type of demons called “hollows”, and when the hollows feasted on enough peculiars, they would become “wights”. Wights can pass as normal people so they are far more dangerous than the hollows.

After learning that another loop has been disturbed, Jacob realizes that there is a wight on the island. His dad spoke of a fellow birder who seemed unusual, and Miss Peregrine suggested that it might be the wight (blind man) that he saw near his grandfather’s house. Miss Peregrine tries to convince Jacob to stay in 1940, but he worries about his family, and continues to switch back and forth.

Unsatisfied with the few sheep he has killed, the wight has moved on to killing common humans. This worries Miss Peregrine and the peculiars, and suddenly a young adult novel is born (7/8 of the way through the book). Jacob with the help of Emma, Bronwyn (who can lift boulders above her head), Hugh (who has a beehive inside him), and Enoch (who can bring creatures back from the dead) decide to hunt the wight. (Enoch is probably the only horror-esc thing in the book, and it’s not entirely clear what exactly he is doing.)

They find Martin, the man who was killed, and Enoch brings him back to life. As he is telling the kids what happened, the killer enters the room behind them. It turns out that Jacob led him to the island as he’s been following Jacob since childhood in the form of a bus driver, a lawn man, and most recently, Dr. Golan. Luckily the kids with their special skills manage to get away. They separate and when they regroup, Hugh has a picture of a dead bird that the wight gave him. They take that to mean that Miss Peregrine is in trouble.

They race back to the school and find that their fears were realized. Dr. Golan kidnapped Miss Peregrine and Miss Avocet (the ymbryne from the loop that was destroyed). Luckily invisible Millard followed him. They track him down, and trap him without his gun. He dumps the birds, and Jacob shoots and kills him. The kids track down the birdcage that is bobbing in the water, avoiding what appears to be another wight in a submarine who has managed to get Miss Avocet,  and return to the school.

Miss Peregrine has been injured in hawk form and apparently cannot return to human form while injured, the loop stops working. Golan let slip that the hollows and wights are tracking down the ymbrynes to help with their next attempt at successful time travel. The kids decide to try to find another ymbryne and another loop. Jacob says goodbye to his father and joins them on their mission.

Verdict: 3 stars

The idea of this book is good, and I really love that the whole idea of it came from old photographs. The photographs were definitely the most creative part of the book. But the story that Riggs created to go with those photos felt a little flat to me. The characters were fairly interesting, but it took too long to get to the action. I don’t think I’ll be reading any others of the series.

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Filed under 3 stars, Book Club, Book Review

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