Take some old, but real, weird pictures
Add a rocky, bog ridden isolated island off of the coast of Wales
Add an old orphanage
Stir and you get creepy. Let’s deal with the old but real pictures that are scattered throughout the book. The author, Ransom Riggs, began collecting what is called “found photography”. That is pictures taken by others that you “find” at flea markets, antique shows etc. When his publisher suggested he create a story around his “found” photos, he began constructing a world based on an orphanage that housed children with “peculiar” powers. The cast of the book would consist of the children he “found” in his photos.
The story begins with Jacob, a 16 year old socially inept, rich kid, seeing his future stretch before him as the heir of a pharmacy empire. This is not to his liking because as he was growing up, his grandpa, Abraham, kept telling him amazing stories about his travels around the world. And that is what Jacob wants to do. When Abraham was a boy, at the outset of World War II, his parents sent him to Wales to save him from the monsters that Hitler was creating (this monster theme permeates the book). He is sent to an orphanage. When Jacob was 7 or so, he shows Jacob pictures of the other children (such as the one’s above) and Jacob wonders how his grandfather either photo shopped them or took some really bad pictures. As Jacob grew up, his father tells him more and more about the real tribulations that Grandpa had gone through. He had lost his entire family in the war and then valiantly fought the monsters that had killed his family. Jacob begins to believe that his Grandpa is making up the stories to cover the atrocities inflicted on him and his family. But one day Jacob gets a frantic call from his grandpa who’s screaming, ” where is the key?!” He meant to his gun locker. He tells Jacob, “You stay away, hear me? I’ll be fine-cut out their tongues and stab them in the eyes, that’s all I gotta do!” Jacob hurries home to find the back screen slashed and his grandpa eviscerated. But before he dies, he leaves Jacob a mystery only Jacob can unravel. But his discovery of his mutilated grandpa (there are no graphic descriptions) leaves Jacob deeply distressed with continually bad nightmares. His parents send him to a therapist, Dr. Golan. He seems to help Jacob. And when Jacob decides he wants to go to Wales and find the orphanage, perhaps some may still be in the village and will remember his grandpa, the therapist convinces his parents to let him go. His dad goes with him ostensibly to write a book on birds.
Then Jacob comes face to face with his grandpa’s mysterious past and his being part of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. “Peculiar children”…Here is where the book reminds me of other such books. Miss Peregrine is very much like the stern mistress in Harry Potter, the television show Lost, where people mysteriously disappear and with monstrous creatures to encounter and the novel, The Night Circus, where all sorts of illusions mystify and befuddle its audience (the Peculiar children did, at one time, live freely as parts of circuses). Here we have a girl who can hold a ball of fire in her hand, another that can levitate, still another that could take the heart of an animal and use it to raise another from the dead . Miss Peregrine and her children live in a “time” loop, kind of like a perpetual ground hog day with no one growing old. There is a portal, of course, and that is how Jacob finds them. But there are monsters waiting and watching to find that portal so that they eat Miss Peregrine and Her Peculiar Children so that they can try to live an immortal life.
I found a few themes while reading the book. The one I mentioned earlier about monsters. It’s clear the author is trying to point out that there may be made up monsters in our dreams but there are real “monsters” amongst us. Also, at one point, Jacob has to decide to stay within the time loop or go back to his normal life, if he will have one. Is comfort and “knowing” your future and its safety worth the monotony of living the same way day after day? His grandpa had thought not and left. What will Jacob do? I also felt Jacob had a sense of disconnect with family and school and “being social”. This seems to be a disconnect many of our young people are feeling today. But does making a change really off set the disconnect?
The movie rights have been bought and Tim Burton will direct. I see something scary coming our way… (Update 1/24/14…The sequel is now out. It is Hollow City.)
For: teens 13+