Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

Though I had seen the cover image for this book around the web the past couple of years, I don’t think I really had it on my radar (or on my to-read list) until I caught wind that it was being adapted into a movie to be directed by Tim Burton. The words peculiar children in the title sound like something in Burton’s wheelhouse, so of course I’d want to go see that movie. But since the book is always better than the movie, I decided I’d have to read it first. If I liked it, I could then continue on with the trilogy.

The story starts in Florida, where Jake works at a chain pharmacy store owned by his mother’s side of the family. The family has plenty of money, and he doesn’t necessarily need the part-time job, but since he’s an heir to the company fortune, he works there. He does a few things to try to get fired, which are supposed to give him an outsider or loner kind of status, but instead it reads more negative like self-centered privilege.

But I forgave that quickly because the story had an intriguing start. Jake was always close to his grandfather Abe, who told stories of monsters and peculiar children. Abe had quite an old photo collection, some appearing fake but others appearing kind of freaky. In an afterword, author Riggs claims that vintage photographs he found were part of the inspiration for the book. At the start, these odd photos of odd folks are well incorporated into the story. Then Abe is brutally killed, presumably by animals, but Jake insists it was a monster.

When Jake receives a birthday gift from his grandfather—discovered by his aunt while cleaning out the house—it contains information that leads him to Cairnholm, Wales, location of an orphanage where his grandfather grew up. With some support from his psychiatrist, Jake convinces his ornithologist father to take him there.

The atmosphere at this part of the story is exceptional. The residents of Cairnholm have bizarre and/or creepy idiosyncrasies, and some mysteries develop that cause the residents to question Jake and his father’s motivations for being there. When Jake finds the orphanage, it’s in ruins from a bomb dropped in World War II aerial attacks.

Then he meets two of the titular peculiar children—Emma, who can control fire, and Millard, who’s invisible. They take him to the orphanage to meet its caretaker, Miss Peregrine, but this time the home is in pristine condition. Miss Peregrine and the peculiar children live in a time loop, where the same day repeats itself over and over again without anyone getting older. It’s a technique used to protect the peculiar children not only from being exploited in side shows but also from… nope, not gonna spoil it.

The children have their unique peculiarities: one girl can control vegetation, one boy has bees living inside him, another boy has prophetic dreams, another girl must wear lead shoes or she’ll float away, and so on. From the original cover image and the movie trailer, I expected this floating-girl to have a more prominent story in the book. She doesn’t, which is a shame, as I’m intrigued by the specifics of her condition, but the book didn’t provide anything.

Apart from Emma, there isn’t much distinction between the personalities of the peculiar children beyond having their different peculiarities. They’re like a lite version of the X-Men: First Class with bland characters. For me, the book became less peculiar once the peculiar children were introduced, and it dragged instead of building to what should have been a tense climax.

Out of eleven chapters, it isn’t until about chapter five and six when the peculiar children are met. I was wondering how the book was going to wrap up in so few remaining chapters, but then I came to the exceptionally long penultimate chapter. As I read, there were some moments where I wondered how the conflicts would be resolved, and some of those moments could have been great places for a chapter break to help build tension with some cliffhangers or provide a couple places to put the book down if you had to. Instead, the climax drags.

This is a peculiar tale of two stories. The first half, where Jake is investigating his grandfather’s past has great atmosphere, creatively utilizes old photographs, and has interesting characters. The second half, with Miss Peregrine and her peculiar children, is lacking a peculiar atmosphere, has not as smooth usage of the photographs, and has mostly character types. Quite peculiar indeed, and unfortunately, not as strong as I had expected or hoped. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children receives a not-so-peculiar THREE STARS.

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is available at Amazon.

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