Quirk Books, 2011
Kindle eBook, 386 pages
A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And 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 who once lived here - one of whom was his own grandfather - were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason.
And somehow - impossible though it seems - they may still be alive
In Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, Jacob Portman is a teen in search of himself. Oh, he knows he's the only son in a wealthy family with a future in the family drugstore chain, but, as he shared with his grandfather, he wants a less mundane life full of adventure. Jacob's grandfather had shared stories of his own childhood when he was a war orphan at a strange home for peculiar children with special abilities, but then, his grandfather also worried about the monsters so Jacob thought it was all just a fantasy.
"I felt even more cheated when I realized that most of Grandpa Portman’s best stories couldn’t possibly be true. The tallest tales were always about his childhood, like how he was born in Poland but at twelve had been shipped off to a children’s home in Wales." (Page 9)
More fantastic still were his stories about life in the Welsh children’s home. It was an enchanted place, he said, designed to keep kids safe from the monsters, on an island where the sun shined every day and nobody ever got sick or died. Everyone lived together in a big house that was protected by a wise old bird—or so the story went. As I got older, though, I began to have doubts." (Page 9)
And I really did believe him—for a few years, at least—though mostly because I wanted to, like other kids my age wanted to believe in Santa Claus. We cling to our fairy tales until the price for believing them becomes too high, which for me was the day in second grade when Robbie Jensen pantsed me at lunch in front of a table of girls and announced that I believed in fairies. It was just deserts, I suppose, for repeating my grandfather’s stories at school but in those humiliating seconds I foresaw the moniker “fairy boy” trailing me for years and, rightly or not, I resented him for it. (Page 16)
It wasn’t until a few years later that my dad explained it to me: Grandpa had told him some of the same stories when he was a kid, and they weren’t lies, exactly, but exaggerated versions of the truth—because the story of Grandpa Portman’s childhood wasn’t a fairy tale at all. It was a horror story. (Page 17)
When his grandfather is murdered under suspicious circumstances he gives his last instructions to Jacob:
I asked him what happened, what animal had hurt him, but he wasn’t listening. “Go to the island,” he repeated. “You’ll be safe there. Promise me.”
“I will. I promise.” What else could I say?
“I thought I could protect you,” he said. “I should’ve told you a long time ago …” I could see the life going out of him.
“Told me what?” I said, choking back tears.
“There’s no time,” he whispered. Then he raised his head off the ground, trembling with the effort, and breathed into my ear: “Find the bird. In the loop. On the other side of the old man’s grave. September third, 1940.” I nodded, but he could see that I didn’t understand. With his last bit of strength, he added, “Emerson—the letter. Tell them what happened, Yakob.” (Page 33)
Jacob has nightmares about his grandfather's death and ends up traveling, with his father, to the island his grandfather had talked about for years and spoke of in his dying breath.
"I thought mom would object—three whole weeks!—but the closer our trip got, the more excited for us she seemed. “My two men,” she would say, beaming, “off on a big adventure!” I found her enthusiasm kind of touching, actually—until the afternoon I overheard her talking on the phone to a friend, venting about how relieved she’d be to “have her life back” for three weeks and not have “two needy children to worry about.” ( Page 63)
"And that is how someone who is unusually susceptible to nightmares, night terrors, the Creeps, the Willies, and Seeing Things That Aren’t Really There talks himself into making one last trip to the abandoned, almost-certainly-haunted house where a dozen or more children met their untimely end." (Page 99)Ransom Riggs has throughout the books old photographs to illustrate the story, which is what made Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children create such a buzz when it was initially released. It's a unique concept and the photos add a delightful creepiness to the story, however this is more a mystery/fantasy rather than a horror novel. Actually, it becomes a genre-bending novel in the second half. There are some plot holes, especially in the second part of the novel, when he's on the island.
Viewing the photos might bother some people if you're reading this as an eBook. If desired, you can look online to see the photos larger/clearer. It didn't really bother me on the Kindle. (Actually this has bothered me more with nonfiction books.)
The narrative actually started out stronger than it finished, but, all in all, I'd highly recommend it. There is a sequel, Hollow City.
“I didn’t know you could fry toast,” I remarked, to which Kev replied that there wasn’t a food he was aware of that couldn’t be improved by frying. (Page 72)
“When someone won’t let you in, eventually you stop knocking. Know what I mean?” (Page 84)