This is one of those books that a review just can’t do justice to. I’ve seen quite a few floating around now and none quite manage to capture the atmosphere and mystery of Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. Naturally I have to add in my two cents, but the book really does need to be seen to be understood.
Amazon: ‘A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here – one of whom was his own grandfather – were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow – impossible though it seems – they may still be alive.
The most interesting point of this book is the photographs. The text is interspersed with vintage-looking photos of the children that feature in the novel.. They’re very, very creepy and add to the already creepy atmosphere. Sometimes I realised I had been closely examining a photo for the last ten minutes! See, I thought they were fantastic before I started to read the afterword, but it turns out that the photographs are real. Well, not actually real obviously, as children tend not to levitate. But they are authentic, vintage-found photos. Mr Riggs trailed through the archives of a ridiculous amount of photograph collectors to find images from freak shows from the early 1900s, and then based his characters on those people. Somehow that makes them seem even creepier to me.
It’s clever how the photos aren’t just shoved in there without a mention. Their insertion always co-incides with Jacob finding an old album or remembering a photograph his Grandpa showed him once, and it always describes the photo you’re looking it. It really drags you in, like you’re discovering the photo at the same time Jacob is.
It is a very creepy book, but you can tell that from looking at the cover with the levitating child. The beginning is especially atmospheric as Jake discovers what happened to his grandfather and examines the ancient orphanage. After that though, it kind of loses its edge a little and turns into a cross between the Addams Family and the X-Men. It’s not as creepy or unique, but it still retains the fast-moving plot and interesting character so don’t lose heart. Towards the end, it does recapture the creepiness excellently, but the middle is a little twee.
I got really annoyed with Jacob at one point for refusing to believe that any of what he was seeing was real and chalking it all up to psychological problems. But then I remembered that my pet hate of supernatural books is the far too easy acceptance of teenagers of whatever ghost/vampire/magic creature happens to be staring them in the face. So I went back and reread those parts – and yes, actually – it’s exactly how any normal, non-fictional person would react to monsters i.e. being scared witless. It made me respect the character a hell of a lot more.
Pet hate #2 – the uncecessary shovelling in of pointless romance. Especially in this case, where it’s gross and vaguely incestuous. Less please.
The imagery, however, is wonderful. The island, the village and the children are all perfectly described. I could happily have sat there and read the whole thing in one go – between the descriptions, atmosphere and fast-moving plot I was hard-pressed to put the damn thing down. Honestly though, it just wouldn’t have been half as good without those photographs. It makes me wonder if it could actually stand on its own two feet as the images are the only thing that makes it unique.
It seems to be classed everywhere as a YA book, but it’s a little too dark in my opinion. The again, it’s a little too childish for the snobbier adults. It’s a brilliant, brilliant book and I adored it, but I wouldn’t give it to children.