For the past decade or so, dystopian novels have been the popular go-to for young adult readers and the novels have seemed to continue multiplying. While many of these novels have strong lead characters teenagers aspire to be like, the constant “doom and gloom” messages do not make for the best feel-good stories. In 2011, new writer Ransom Riggs chose to break the mold by writing a rather “peculiar” story that almost borderlines circus fiction: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
A terrible family tragedy sends sixteen-year-old Jacob to the remote island of Cairnholm in search of an orphanage his grandfather sought refuge in during World War II. This orphanage was far from ordinary for its occupants were children with strange and peculiar talents. Jacob had once believed the stories and photographs his grandfather shared with him of this orphanage, but were the stories and photos actually true? With over half a century having passed, are the children still alive? If so, if they really did have the inhuman abilities his grandfather told him about, would they be friend… or foe?
With this not only being Riggs’ first novel, but also the first in his trilogy, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children certainly makes an impression. It is a very unique story that will attract a larger audience than the young adult genre it was intended for. The unpredictability is a rare and refreshing find for it will be very difficult for readers to predict what will happen next. Riggs’ writing style is beautiful and he paints a phenomenal picture within the readers’ minds of his world and characters while also showing off the photographs Jacob’s grandfather shares in his stories.
There is a surprising amount of characters within the story ranging from Jacob’s family to his boss to his only friend to his psychiatrist to the peculiar children. However, each character has his or her own unique personality, so it does not become confusing following the characters throughout the story. When it comes to the peculiars, imagine a home where children never grow up, each has his or her own unique talent no other human has, and hid their powers in plain sight by joining traveling circuses. It is like X-Men meets Peter Pan meets freak show. While readers will be fascinated to learn about and will be briefly introduced to each of the peculiars, it would have been nice to learn more about each of the children’s back stories. That must be what the remaining books in the series are for.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a story that plays with fact and fiction and does so successfully. While Cairnholm is a fictional island off the coast of Wales, the time period the orphanage resides in is a part of actual history: World War II, to be exact. Riggs does not focus on giving a history lesson to his readers, but rather gives the year and subtle hints to the time period while leaving the remaining details for the readers’ imaginations to conjure up. Another factual aspect of Riggs’ story is the photographs scattered throughout its pages. “All the pictures in this book are authentic, vintage found photographs, and with the exception of a few that have undergone minimal postprocessing, they are unaltered” (Riggs 350). This gives the story an even more haunting feel for while it is easy to spot a handful of photos that have most certainly been tampered with, the rest look all too real. These photos help to bring the story to life even more, giving it an old-school freak show sort of feel.
Though it is categorized as a young adult book, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a book to be enjoyed by young adults and adults alike (the darkness of the story along with a few other elements makes this book perhaps just mature enough to not be read by children). Riggs will intrigue readers when the factual meets the fantastical in his unique and unpredictable story. His beautifully detailed writing coupled with realistic peculiar photographs will paint a clear image within the readers’ minds. While a couple elements may be confusing and readers may wish to learn more about the peculiar children, this is only the first in a trilogy. Younger readers can take a break from the “doom and gloom” of dystopian novels by delving back into Riggs’ world to discover more with his sequel, Hollow City.