Photo Courtesy of Quirk Books
Most teens grow bored by their grandparents’ stories about their childhood, but Jacob Portman is highly intrigued by his grandfather’s tales about supernatural children who lived on a remote island off the coast of Wales with a guardian that protects them from looming threats.
Readers will also be engaged by the tales featured in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which is the first book of a series written by Ransom Riggs. It’s classified as a supernatural fantasy and mystery with antique photos. It was published in 2011, and appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list, but has taken a while to gain popularity in California.
The story begins 70 years ago when Jacob’s grandfather was only a child. Years later, the main character, Jacob Portman, and a group of special children are threatened by an undefined evil that seeks to destroy people with supernatural abilities. The mysterious, threatening force has come back after being defeated many years ago. A number of characters gradually realize they are in danger, including Jacob, his newfound supernatural friends, his grandfather and Miss Peregrine who is the guardian of the children hiding in an orphanage on an otherwise inhabited island. If the evil force finds the children’s hiding place and kills their guardian, it is likely that none of them will survive.
This book’s story compels your attention because the action starts right away; the plot is never dragged out to develop characters or provide history – it seamlessly unfolds and withholds to provide tension. Jacob almost immediately travels to the island in his grandfather’s tales because he knows he is no longer safe, though he is unsure of why he is threatened. The author builds suspense by making us wonder how the children are in danger and why Jacob is unsafe. Only children with special abilities are threatened, and Jacob does not appear to possess any supernatural ability at all. Jacob’s involvement is revealed slowly, and the answers to these questions are satisfying.
Most readers will identify with Jacob even though some of his struggles are clearly unusual. He is still a typical teenager who faces the challenges of dealing with parents and discovering where he belongs. Some teens may also connect with the fact that Jacob has lost someone he loves. Yet, he is also interesting because he travels to a remote island to try to unravel the bizarre mysteries his grandfather has shared with him before passing away. The other children are intriguing for more obvious reasons, as they gradually reveal supernatural abilities and tragic histories.
However, there were some parts of the story that utterly failed. There is a romantic subplot that is underdeveloped and somewhat dull. There are also scenes depicting Jacob’s father yearning to learn about a rare type of bird that no one but an ornithologist would care about. If you’re not a fan of bird watching, you can skip past these paragraphs and not miss anything important.
Yet overall, this book was thought-provoking in terms of exploring how people are often persecuted simply for being different. Most of the characters are original and the narrative moves forward in a compelling way. Most people who love fantasies or supernatural novels will enjoy it. If you read it and become a fan, there is a film version of this book due out in March, 2016. It will be directed by Tim Burton who was also a director of the supernatural film favorite, Beetlejuice. There is a sequel, Hollow City, and Riggs is currently working on the third book in this series. So, if you like your fiction on the strange side, read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and be assured there are more peculiar adventures to come.