I know I write a lot about the wonderful children’s books of my youth, but I don’t want to miss out on the ones being written now. With that in mind, I picked up the newish Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2011) by the fantastically named Ransom Riggs. A little spooky, maybe, but I was intrigued by the idea of a boarding school type setting with some supernatural flair and the haunting, old-fashioned pictures. Plus, one review said it was like X-Men: First Class (I’m not ashamed to admit that I liked this movie – who knew Nicholas Hoult would become so cute?) meets a time travel story with David Lynch elements (who didn’t love Twin Peaks?). Sold.
After witnessing his beloved grandfather’s horrible death, 16-year-old Jacob decides to go to a small Welsh island to find out the source of his grandfather’s incredible stories. All the clues he has are the far-fetched stories about a place that was always sunny, peculiar children who could somehow do extraordinary things, and grandpa Abe’s last message involving nonsensical mutterings about a pipe-smoking bird and a loop. And of course there are the strange photographs, not quite normal, but normal enough for a teenage boy to think his grandfather was lying to him. Once he gets there, he doesn’t really find much except local youths with a penchant for rap and being unhelpful. But one day everything changes when he falls through the floor of an abandoned building – the very building that used to be a strange orphanage where nobody ever saw the children. But could the uncanny children possibly be alive? How can this be? The orphanage was destroyed years ago…
Spooky! Overall, a pretty fun book and a fast read for Riggs’ debut. Ok, so I think the book could have lived up to its promise better – there was so much potential at the beginning and I was genuinely scared at first. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I wished that the book had been even creepier and freakier. It’s obvious that he set this up as a series, so it makes sense for him to hold back a little, but I think a good book, even in a series, should be able to stand on its own. And as for the pictures, at first I thought it was pretty neat-o, but after a while I thought that he was stretching and getting too carried away by his own cleverness. And the romance with the spitfire Emma makes Oedipus seem less creepy. I don’t want to give anything away.
I like how Riggs used the idea that grandkids can take their grandparents for granted – not bothering to hear their stories and such – and turned it into this scary cautionary tale. I’m sure most kids would be more keen to listen to their grandparents if those stories also involved peculiar children and secret missions. Because of this storytelling and tall-tale aspect, and the obscure UK setting, I got a The Secret of Roan Inish vibe from the book – but I liked Roan Inish better. Selkies are so intriguing.
I don’t know how this book will stand the test of time, but for now it was creepy enough (in a good way) and fun. It looks like the movie rights have been snapped up, and it’s not hard to see why. The screenwriter is the Brit Jane Goldman, the same as for X-Men: First Class (coincidence?) and a slew of other similar titles, and Tim Burton is hovering around the project. He seems like the obvious choice, but I’d be curious to see what someone new might do with this. As much as I quibble with the book, I’ll totally go to see the movie. But maybe in the daytime.