I love quirky and odd books so when I stumbled across the book trailer for the young adult novel “Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs I knew I had found another to add to my list. This is Mr. Riggs’ debut novel and Quirk Books has already announced an unnamed sequel. It was also recently announced that Tim Burton will be directing the movie adaptation. After reading the book, I think Tim Burton is the only one who can do it justice.
The book centers on Jacob Portman, the 16 year old son of wealthy parents destined to be railroaded into working in his family’s drug store chain and living inFlorida. Jacob comes to view his life in terms of “Before” and “After”. The “Before” is what he sees as his normal boring life–unremarkable and already planned out for him. He’s your basic angsty, bored and self absorbed teen. On the surface Jacob sounds like an unsympathetic character, but his relationship with his paternal grandfather gives the reader enough of a hint that there is a caring human being (and salvageable character) under that exterior to keep you interested. Initially the only peculiar thing in the novel is the mystery of his Grandfather, Abe Portman. During Jacob’s childhood his grandfather regaled the boy with tales of his world travels, his time in the war (World War II) hunting “monsters” and sharing pictures of the children he’d lived with as a child. His parents had sent him fromPolandto a children’s home on a remote island called Cairnholm off the coast ofWales. It was fairly common, during WWII, for Jewish parents to send their children away fromEuropein an attempt to protect them from the Nazis. On the surface it seemed as though his grandfather had a remarkable life, but it was a life that a number of other people could also lay claim to. The old black and white photographs of the other children at the home were what set Grandpa Abe apart though. There was the levitating girl, the invisible boy, and other oddities that Jacob,as he grew older, came to see as doctored photos—photoshop before there was such a thing. And his Grandfather’s stories of the children’s abilities could only be the stuff of fantasy. Jacob accepted his grandfather as eccentric and possibly psychologically damaged from the horrors he’s seen as a child and as a soldier and went on with his life. The “After” part of his life comes from a life altering event and the words of his Grandfather: “Go to the island. Find the bird, find the loop.” Having no real idea what that means and why his Grandfather insists that Jacob will be safer on “the island”, Jacob sets out on an adventure that bends everything he knows about reality, it tests him and helps him discover who he really is. It also shows the reader that Jacob is a remarkable young man who’s willing to step up and accept his destiny.
I enjoyed this story immensely and was happy to find out there was already a planned sequel—with the ending left the way it was, I couldn’t imagine there wouldn’t be a sequel. Mr. Riggs’ inclusion of unusual photographs to help tell his story took an already engaging novel and cranked it up a notch. He found the photos through collectors—who were thankfully willing to share their found treasures. The characters are fleshed out and the little twists that occur are surprising, but also manage to feel necessary and help explain and keep everything in order. The book is marketed as a young adult fantasy novel, but adults will find an enjoyable read as well. Mr. Riggs explores an urban fantasy setting and mixes in the mysteries of growing up and finding yourself in a dysfunctional family. If you’re looking for something to escape your boring reality, I suggest a visit to Miss Peregrine’s.