I’m a sucker for a great title. The more intriguing the title, the more likely I’ll be to read the book. I think that’s why I’ve often been dragged into books filled with utter muck in genres most people know to avoid. That said, there have been some titles which didn’t just grab me, but held me down too. For example, The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is a curious title that precedes an excellent read (so excellent that I mistakenly read it twice, not realising until I turned to the last chapter). Naturally, therefore, I was instantly attracted by Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.
Not only is the title of this novel incredibly eye-catching, but so too is the presentation of the novel. The story is accompanied by found photographs of times gone by, which the author has come by throughout his days collecting unusual photographs. These pictures are the inspiration for the titular peculiar children, as they are of camera tricks making the children appear to be levitating or super strong. Riggs has built his story around these pictures in a very novel way. I must say I did find some of the photographs very interesting and they added an extra something to the novel, or rather as the case probably was the story added more to the photographs.
The story revolves around Jake, a teenager from a very middle-class background whose grandfather escaped “monsters” during WWII. This interesting grandfather character has the photographs I’ve spoken so much about and shows them to Jake accompanied by stories of when the grandfather knew the children photographed. These children, the grandfather tells us, were peculiar and could really float, lift boulders, and set things aflame. Later, following some inexplicable events, Jake takes off to the remote island to find out more about his mysterious grandfather’s past. I’m not doing the story justice here, the beginning is incredibly gripping, with characters we do want to find out more about.
However, as with many books coming early in a writer’s career the story itself is great, but the execution leaves something to be desired. There were times in the novel when I felt like certain passages were forced into the book in order to facilitate later events, but without seeming justified at the time. The foreshadowing is just too much to bear in places, with the ending becoming just a little too obvious too early in the book, which evaporated the suspense for me. I look forward to reading the second instalment to see if the wrinkles have been ironed out of the narrative style.
I also had some trouble with the narrative style of the novel, being a language guy (two years of teaching middle-school EFL writing will do that to you) I couldn’t get my head around the register of the book. For one part, the novel took place in Wales with children who had been there for quite some time in 1940, and yet they speak in slang of modern day kids. Maybe I sound a bit pedantic with this, but the teacher in me can’t let a lapse like that slide. Also, this book has been listed as both children’s and young adult in numerous bookshops I’ve been in, and yet the language is a little vulgar for a children’s read. On the other hand then, I’m not sure the story is all that appealing to teenagers for whom a frank and candid register is appropriate. There is a rather forced romantic element that seems to crop up in quite a lot of YA fiction that seems to alienate some readers (as mentioned here by Jo Hogan), which seems bizarre given the nature of said romance and also seems to be used only to shunt the characters into the next set of events. Had Riggs focused instead on an adventure novel, this book could have been awesome, however by forcing the romance so early, I feel he fell between the two stools of Romance and Adventure.
All in all, I did think the book lived up to the Peculiar title, and even left me feeling a bit peculiar. I did enjoy the book for the most part, but as I mentioned the language can be jarring as it often sounds like a teenager came in and added “boners” (a word I absolutely despise) and “fucks” with impunity. It’s a 3* review from me, I’ll definitely keep an eye out for the second instalment and will probably end up at the film too!
TL;DR It’s like x-men in Wales with “peculiars” instead of mutants. A good read, not mind-blowing.