I admit I wasn’t sure what to think when I first received my copy of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. The grey, eerie cover photo is strangely haunting, and it was only after a few moments of staring into the small girl’s dark hollow eyes that I noticed her feet aren’t planted on solid ground at all!
As a somewhat seasoned reviewer, my instincts made me pause: “So, it’s going to be one of those books is it…” Generally, I’d say I’m pretty good when it comes to things like this. Add to the eerie cover the author’s slightly peculiar name – Ransom Riggs – and I will be honest with you here readers, I really didn’t expect too much from this book at all.
Oh how wrong I was.
Penned by debut author Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine follows our young protagonist Jacob – an angst-ridden American teenager whose mother runs a chain of highly successful pharmacy stores. Following a family tragedy in the strangest of circumstances, Jacob becomes even more isolated than ever as he fails to persuade anyone what he really saw the night his world was turned upside down. In the hope that an excursion might cure him of his ills, Jacob heads to an island off the coast of Wales, where he soon discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. It is here he finally begins to unlock the secrets of his grandfather’s mysterious past, and at can long last get to the bottom of what really happened to his grandfather one curious day back in September 1940.
One of the first things any reader will notice about Miss Peregrine is that it’s not a “normal” book in the traditional sense. In line with the peculiar cover, the text is interspersed with over 40 similarly chilling photographs the author has collected – and one must assume, been inspired by – in the course of writing the book. The pictures work wonderfully well to add a real sense of atmosphere to the tale, above and beyond that created by the words alone.
Very often with these sorts of things you tend to find either they fall flat (as too much emphasis is placed on the novelty of the altered form), or they work remarkably well. Fortunately in the case of Miss Peregrine, the latter is certainly the case. This is partly because the text doesn’t rely on the images in order to work – rather the pictures support the text, working alongside the text to the benefit of the narrative.
On the subject of plot and narrative, Miss Peregrine is a remarkably accomplished work. Treading in that grey area somewhere between teen and adult fantasy, the prose is face-paced and engaging, with every page advancing the plot in some way shape or form. All too often these days authors fill their books with ‘page filler’ material that, to me at least, is a wasted effort and only serves to detract from the tale. In Miss Peregrine however, every word is assured, and not one page is wasted.
My only problem here is, in a sense, the same problem I have with any other book that treads the same teen/adult ground as this – that the book is neither one thing nor the other, and never fully explores the interesting concepts that it presents.
This in turn links with my second problem with Miss Peregrine, namely the way the book deals with time. For most readers, this probably won’t be a problem if you are willing to suspend your disbelief and not think too closely about the various time-related intricacies of the text. If like me however you like to engage with things like this, there are certainly a few holes, and in line with the book’s leaning towards the younger audience, some things just aren’t fully explained.
But in the scheme of things, concerns with Miss Peregrine are relatively minor. If you want an easy to read, fast-paced, chilling adventure novel, then this book is for you. The writing is fresh and engaging, and even though for hardened fans of genre fiction it may be a little ‘lightweight’, Miss Peregrine is a thoroughly enjoyable read that offers the reader something a little bit different to the norm.