Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children

by Ransom Riggs


Jacob Portman loved the stories his grandpa would tell him as a child, far-fetched yarns about monsters and adventures and strange children with very special powers. But as he grew up he learned to disbelieve, putting these fables down to metaphors for the Nazi persecution of the Jews and childish fairytales. So when Abraham Portman starts panicking about monsters again and looking for the key to his gun locker, the teenage Jacob and his parents assume he's suffering from dementia.

Then tragedy strikes, and Jacob is eaten up with guilt about his failure to prevent it. Weeks of therapy don't help, and Jacob remains traumatised and isolated by the way people don't believe his account of events. So he and his father set off for Wales to investigate Miss Peregrine's children's home on a remote island, where he hopes he can lay his demons to rest. The island is cut off and decrepit, and what's left of the home is even more eerie. But Ransom Riggs does a good job of lulling us into thinking Jacob's father's ramblings were nothing more than make-believe and delusion, before laying down some serious weirdness.

The text is illustrated with a series of old photographs, often a little fuzzy or dark but featuring quite a few freaks. This might give the impression of a quaint or even childish book, but it isn't really. Jacob is a modern young man, though a bit of a slacker, and the story has its share of teenage language and violent surprises. I think the levitating girl on the cover and the book trailer make this novel seem like it's for a slightly younger audience than it actually is.

I enjoyed the way the Peculiars' world works in some of the traditional legends of fairyland, whilst offering a whole new explanation for these stories. The plot gets more and more complex as Jacob unearths new mysteries every time he finds something out about his grandfather's past. The people he meets are believably abrasive and emotional, even though some of them are extraordinary.

Ultimately the main character has an agonising choice to make: should he turn his back on the new and Peculiar friends he's made and return to his normal life, or leave his family and everyone he's ever known to join them, even though their curiously old-fashioned idyll has a dark side. And the monsters that his grandpa Portman was so afraid of are always there in the background, hoping to hunt them all down.

This is an unusual story, with none of the hackneyed concepts that so often clog up the pages of young adult fantasy. The old photographs have a certain poignancy, even though some of them are quite crudely manipulated. They're put together to tell an original tale with a sweet sub-plot about thwarted love. It's funny in places as well, such as when Jacob is put in his place by cheeky friends or pestered by wannabe rappers. Jacob himself starts off unsure of his place in the world and rather directionless, more of a drifter than a fighter, but he's not so spineless as to lose our sympathy whilst he makes this journey of self-discovery. Yet the overall tone is tense and dark, like the echo of musty, abandoned places and mysteries of the past best kept hidden. It's an authentically creepy book.

10th October 2011

Book Details

Year: 2011

Categories: Books

  YA     Fantasy
    Male Protagonist  

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Review © Ros Jackson