Monday, October 17, 2011

"Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is the first young adult book I've read since August, though I requested it from the library quickly based on the praise I had heard for its quirky story. However, the story itself is not too unusual, at least to fans of fantasy with a gothic twist. Jacob grew up hearing fantastic stories from his grandfather about an island filled with children with special abilities. Though he devoured the stories as a child, as he grew older, Jacob believed in them less and less until his grandfather is killed in a bizarre tragedy. Hoping to learn more about his grandfather's history, Jacob seeks out the island and discovers Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, a sanctuary for X-Men-like children that remains in a time loop of one day during World War II.

What sets Miss Peregrine apart is its use of odd vintage photographs, which appear periodically throughout the book (i.e., as Jacob examines the photo, it appears in the novel). Though the photos are interesting and certainly creepy, they also have the unintended effect of making the novel feel like a creative writing exercise. I could just imagine an instructor saying, "Here are five random photos; now make a cohesive story from them!" Even though writers are free to get their inspiration from anywhere, such inspiration is usually less apparent. Seeing the photos made me think, "Okay, so here's how Riggs choose to work this photo in." Fair or not, I couldn't help seeing the story as forced and inauthentic because of it.

This sense of inauthenticity also extended to the characters. I just couldn't quite buy Jacob's teenage angst, and he often seemed much younger or much older than he's supposed to be. I also didn't connect to his relationship with Emma, which happened far too quickly.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is not a bad story, and it would be great for a younger audience with a lower reading level. However, it didn't bring me in.

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