Anyone not fantasize about having some sort of supernatural power as a child, a special quality that set you apart, in a good way? Did you dream of defying your parents and schoolyard bullies, so no one would dare mess with you, or anyone you cared about, ever again?
Since children are small, and at the mercy of higher authority, they occasionally feel helpless, and feeling helpless leads to fantasies about wielding power, independent of the adults who generally stand in the way of the fun stuff they want to do.That's why so many children's books are about orphans, the abandoned, or those largely ignored by their parents/guardians. Without an adult preventing them from doing things, their imagination is the only thing limiting them. And if there's one thing kids have in abundance, it's imagination.
Another thing children crave is adventure, as well as a mystery that's slightly scary but not without the hope of overcoming whatever evil force stands between them and what's morally right. Children have a firm grasp of right and wrong, not that they always follow it. The good ones do, but there are always antagonistic baddies. Actually, their understanding may be more highly refined than that of a lot of adults, at least characters in the literature do.
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a Peter Pan-esque fairy tale following the rules of children's literature, employing supernatural elements mixing with the "real world" to create the best sort of fantasy for children who enjoy exploring mysterious and eccentric worlds with mysterious and eccentric characters.
Amazon Best Books of the Month, June 2011: As a kid, Jacob formed a special bond with his grandfather over his bizarre tales and photos of levitating girls and invisible boys. Now at 16, he is reeling from the old man's unexpected death. Then Jacob is given a mysterious letter that propels him on a journey to the remote Welsh island where his grandfather grew up. There, he finds the children from the photographs–alive and well–despite the islanders’ assertion that all were killed decades ago. As Jacob begins to unravel more about his grandfather’s childhood, he suspects he is being trailed by a monster only he can see. A haunting and out-of-the-ordinary read, debut author Ransom Rigg’s first-person narration is convincing and absorbing, and every detail he draws our eye to is deftly woven into an unforgettable whole. Interspersed with photos throughout, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a truly atmospheric novel with plot twists, turns, and surprises that will delight readers of any age.
And delight it does, even for a seasoned, jaded adult like myself.
I requested a review copy of this book because I couldn't resist the pull of all these delicious points: remote Welsh island setting, mysterious children living – when they shouldn't be, by all standards – in a huge, rambling old Victorianish school, lead by a matron dressed in black from head to toe. And the photos! All those sepia-toned portraits of unreal individuals, mostly children.
The book satisfied the part of my "inner child" that's drawn to gothic stories, the sort of book that tickles the dark, gloomy bit of the imagination. It's not magical realism per se, or, well, if it's considered so it's so closely blended with fantasy it's hard to tell them apart. The story is impossible from a rational perspective, the children's lives and how they've survived for such a long time unseen by outsiders defies reality. And that's the best part.
The main character, Jacob, is very young at the beginning of the book, transfixed by the supernatural stories his grandfather tells. But as he grows older he loses the childhood ability to believe in the unreal, the unseen. After his grandfather is killed in a mysteriously grisly way, he finds it harder to explain away the paranoid behavior his parents saw, the dementia they believed was creeping in. But there was another reason Jacob suspected his grandfather had been telling the truth all along – the grotesque, unreal face he'd seen in the woods, near the site of the murder… The face only he could see.
Such a joy of a read! This is the kind of gruesomeness that doesn't keep me up nights, the sort that's so overtly fantastical the adult in me knows it's fictional. It doesn't involve a serial killer, mass murderer or psychotic, but instead supernatural creatures with a nicely complex back story. But to a child: say an advanced late elementary or junior high/middle school aged fantasy fan, it could feel more possible, easier to imagine. And more real…
The story does build a bit slowly. That's my only criticism, though it shouldn't bother a reader with a bit of patience. But once the reader is up to speed the plot builds to a breathless pace all the way to the end.
The best part is the ending leaves more than enough room for a sequel. In fact, it begs for it. So many things are left up in the air, I can't imagine there won't be a follow-up. At least I hope so.
Very high marks to Miss Peregrine. Put this one in the hands of a child who's a voracious reader, and see what happens. Or, forget the child! Adults should give it a try, to satisfy your younger reader self.
I'd love to hear what you think of it.
[Thank you to Quirk Books for my free review copy.]
You can download the first three chapters of the book for FREE at Quirk Books' website, plus win stuff and find other great books!
Reading level: Young Adult
Ransom Rigg's website
Go take a look! He's an absolutely fascinating person, a great writer and photographer. Go! You know you want to…