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Posts Tagged ‘Ransom Riggs’

I first heard about Ransom Riggs‘ debut novel (he has written several nonfiction books), Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, on a Books on the Nightstand podcast. It’s a YA title, and I wonder about that — what makes some books like this young adult and others adult books with child protagonists? Certainly Briggs gives readers a complicated plot.

Perhaps it’s viewed as an illustrated book. That’s certainly a standout feature — it’s filled with strange black and white photographs, which Briggs says in an author’s note are all “authentic vintage found photos.”  The photos lend an eerie tension as readers see visual evidence of the fantastic things the protagonist, Jacob Portman, learns about his grandfather and the peculiars. As he is led to suspend belief in what he thinks he knows about the world and accept what his eyes are telling him, readers are right there with him.

Peculiar turns out to mean humans who have strange characteristics: a girl who can lift boulders, another who levitates, and one who has a “back mouth.”  A boy who is invisible. A girl who can make fireballs out of thin air. As a child, Jacob is impressed with his grandfather’s strange photos and stories of these peculiar children and of terrible monsters. He eventually decides these are just horrible old world fairy tales told by a man who is forever scarred by his escape from World War II Poland and his separation from his family, who he tells Jacob sent him to a home for refugee children on an island in Wales.

When he’s a teenager, Jacob’s grandfather dies, apparently mauled by wild animals. But Jacob sees the thing that kills him and has horrendous nightmares. His parents, who he already has a strained relationship with, think he’s losing it and take him to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist thinks he should visit the island his grandfather spoke of so he can gain some closure and put the strange stories behind him. On the island, Jacob finds the house where his grandfather took shelter during the war. And he finds Miss Peregrine and the peculiar children.

I can’t really say too much more without spoilers, but I can tell you that this book was very entertaining. The writing is straightforward but evocative. Briggs doesn’t dumb down his explanations of the way the normal and peculiar worlds intersect nor of Jacob’s coming to terms with his grandfather’s life. His portrayal of Jacob as a disaffected 21st century teen struggling with strong emotions was spot on, and the action a the end of the book was quite suspenseful, without everything tying up neatly in a bow. The only thing I didn’t like was the ending, because I hate cliffhangers when the next book isn’t going to be out for awhile (in this case next January).

I’m heartened that books like this — quirky, thoughtful, smart stories, with emotional depth and allusions to history, mythology, and literature — still have a strong following in a world where the top selling books are often much less complicated. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children describes in a new and creative way the monstrous side of human nature and the heroic capacity we also have to resist and repel those monsters.

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