I almost never deviate from the old proverb “never judge a book by its cover,” but there are exceptions to every rule. The novel “Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children,” written by New York Times best selling author Ransom Riggs is one such occasion. While I was at Barnes & Noble browsing selections of best sellers that had been released in paperback, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the cover of Mr. Riggs’ debut novel. It features a black and white photograph of a small female child levitating off of the ground. I picked up the book, and not being familiar with any of Mr. Rigg’s writing, I quickly looked for the obligatory blurb about the author. I learned that Mr. Riggs was born and raised in my home state of Florida, he’s college educated, has won awards for his work on short films, is a fellow blogger, and writes travel essays. Once I found out a little bit about the author, I next turned my attention to the synopsis of the book. Afterwards, I was interested enough to take it home where, several days later, I was sorry that I had finished a most entertaining read.
The 352 page novel was published by Quirk Books and has been garnering fans ever since its original debut on June 7th of 2011. What is the book all about? Well, for starters, it is a book that you will not soon forget once you’ve finished reading it. It is a perfect literary blend of fiction and photography that mixes together to form a reading experience that is not short on thrills.
The story centers on a teenage boy by the name of Jacob Portman who is trying to come to grips with the death of his grandfather, a person he was exceptionally close with. The death is the primary catalyst which sets Jacob on his journey to a remote island, which is located off of the coast of Wales. As a child Jacob’s grandfather regaled him with adventure stories regarding the orphanage he grew up in …. an orphanage filled with the oddest mix of children ever assembled in one place. Not just odd in a freakish sort of way, but children who possessed incredible talents. At first, Jacob is quite taken with Grandpa Portman’s tales, but as he gets older the stories start to become increasingly unbelievable to him. If not for the cryptic message the grandfather speaks to Jacob before he dies, Jacob never would’ve set out on his own adventure to discover the validity of his grandfather’s stories and the truth behind the seemingly unreal home the man grew up in.
While on the island, Jacob explores the remains of Miss Peregrine’s home. As Jacob makes his way through the abandoned bedrooms and hallways of the once thriving house, it becomes apparently obvious to him that the youngsters who once resided there where indeed peculiar. Jacob has not ascertained for himself to a satisfactory degree the following: Were the children harmful? Were the children, perhaps due to some infectious disease that his grandfather was immune to, being housed there under quarantine? It would stand to reason – after all it was a remote island, which is the perfect place to keep what some might feel are society’s undesirables locked away from the so called normal children. But, most puzzling of all mysteries to Jacob, is his increasing suspicion that maybe, just maybe, the peculiar residents of Miss Peregrine’s home have not passed away, but are still alive and appear as they did decades earlier before what the island’s denizens believed were their tragic deaths.
Rigg’s main characters are both enjoyable and well constructed. Jacob is the quintessential teenager, who at times comes off at the start of the novel behaving as a slacker, but as he gains new experiences, makes exceptional growth throughout the course of the book.
Warning, spoilers to follow:
Jacob comes to realize that he has far more responsibility in the world than he originally thought. He is a young person who is honorable, valiant in the face of death, and an overall gentleman. Emma, his love interest is courageous and incisive, not afraid to fight like a mother lion protecting her cubs in order to protect both herself and the other children from harm. Her steely resolve is a front she uses to guard her heart. The remaining assortment of characters receive a smaller degree of exposure and narrative, which is completely reasonable. How many personal histories could Rigg’s have been expected to jam into his story before it became overbearing to the reader and did more harm than good in serving the flow of the novel.
Ransom Rigg’s writing is both descriptive and also very evocative. I know the author was inspired to write the novel based upon the vintage pictures he collected and I applaud his creativity, but I asked myself the following question when I finished the book: Would I have enjoyed the novel any less if the photographs had not been included? The answer is no. The photos included in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” were a wonderful literary treat to the reader, but not essential for Riggs in crafting the page-turner he produced for the public. The book is both an adventure yarn in the traditional sense, and at other times, thanks to Rigg’s originality, a powerful literary experience that is not to be missed.