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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Yes, I’m coming very late to the “Miss Peregrine” party. I discovered the book on an early-virus-stockup trip to BJ’s, and was intrigued by the cover (a little girl, in an Art Deco crown that reminded me of the illustrations in my mother’s 100-year-old copy of “Dorothy and The Wizard in Oz,” floating in the air). It was sufficiently strange, as was the choice of font for the title and, naturally, the name of the book.

Along with the name of the author: Ransom Riggs. I also admit to trying to find out of the author’s name is real, but all the public information I can discover about him reads almost identically, and gives no clues except that, as a child who attended a school for gifted children, he probably based some of his story biographically. Which, of course, is not to say his real life could possibly have been as odd, off, and more than slightly scary as is his novel. Still, the name “Ransom” carries with it the hero of C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy, a payment made to rescue someone, and the sacrifice of self for the good of others. So it makes you wonder.

Young adult fiction, I’m convinced, is really written for those adults – like me – who never entirely grew up as readers. We still love to dwell in fantastical worlds, where heroes win, magic is real, and things go bump in the night. Nevertheless, the book is classified “young adult,” and here I would caution parents of young readers to read along with your impressionable kids.

When the Harry Potter series came out, I wrote a group review of novels over an approximately 80 year span that dealt with magical children who save the world. It’s a theme that has been worked, and reworked, many times, yet never grows old. While there are nail-biting elements in these stories, they essentially are good-against-evil tales, where we’re rooting for the good and the good wins.

This book is more along the lines of The Wizard of Oz and its ilk: there is magic, there are strange and even disturbing or frightening characters (flying monkeys, chained baby dragons, and invisible bears, for example), and our hero or heroine isn’t tasked with saving the world so much as saving him or herself, and a group of friends and allies.

One of the delights of this book is the inclusion of strategically placed photographs throughout the book. An integral part of the story, both artistically and plot-wise, the photos are themselves strange and unusual (if you remember a similar line from a movie, it’s another piece of fiction I’d put in the same category, but with added humor). Some of them are even disturbing, as they depict mostly children who are – peculiar.

I can’t help but wonder if the author lingered over the name of the children, or if it was the idea of the name that birthed the book. Peculiar isn’t a word we use often these days, and it carries with it not just a tang of “old-fashioned,” but brings to mind carnival side-shows, certain artists, and behavior that’s not quite right somehow. And indeed, the children in the story are peculiar, though not because of anything they choose to do, just because of what they are.

Our hero starts out as just another early teen who happens to be gifted, from a wealthy and slightly dysfunctional family, and who is thrown into a quest to discover the truth about his grandfather when the old man dies suddenly and rather horribly. His quest takes him to a remote island off Wales where he finds out he is more than the odd kid at school, and that there are others like himself. And because he continues to walk between two worlds – his “normal” life and the one of the other peculiars at Miss Peregrine’s Home – he not only is poised to battle their mortal enemy, but he’s also faced with a choice: to continue to live in the world he’s always known, or forsake it and embrace his unusual fate.

DF-07907 – Meet some of the very special “Peculiars” – Left to right: Olive (Lauren McCrostie), Bronwyn (Pixie Davies), Millard (Cameron King), the twins (Thomas and Joseph Odwell) and Emma (Ella Purnell). Photo Credit: Jay Maidment.

As with many young adult category books, once the characters have been introduced, neither the writer nor we want to abandon them until their story has played out completely – so Riggs has made Jacob’s story a series. Not only that, but a 2016 film of the story is available for streaming; ideal for socially-distanced entertainment!

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

by Ransom Riggs

Published: 2011

Nancy Roberts
Writer, voice over artist, information achitect, very curious person.