A few times each summer, I indulge in one of my life’s greatest pleasures by reading a book cover-to-cover in one sitting. Most often, my marathon reading takes place over the wee hours of the morning, when I don’t have to deal with phone calls, texts, or feeding myself or the mammals. I really wasn’t planning to devour the entire novel at once; instead I wanted to read a few dozen pages of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and fall asleep, but once I was about twenty pages in, I couldn’t close the thing.
This little book, which runs for 348 pages, is so special not only because of the highly-engaging story line, but also because the story is accompanied (and greatly enriched) by the genuine vintage photographs interspersed throughout. I love old photographs, and the prints included in Ransom Rigg’s first novel are magnetic, largely because they are so freaking creepy. Scary movies are almost always too much for me, particularly since the rise of CGI and surround sound, and I avoid horror films. Thrilling novels, however, are just the right kind of goosebumpy entertainment for a wimp like me.
I started reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children aided only by a little clip on reading light so as to let The Electrician sleep unperturbed by my late night literary jaunt. By chapter three, I had to wake him up to trade me spots so I could read by the little lamp on my nightstand; the low, bluish light of the book light made the wrong kind of shadows for creepy reading. Most of my chills were caused by the photographs, which I saw as a reader at the same time the protagonist encounters or remembers them in the plot. At times, I dreaded turning the page to see the photograph I knew was coming. Of course, none of these pictures are actually gory or violent: they’re just terrifically spooky. One notable subject that appears more than once is a set of two small children, wearing buttoned dancing slippers, tights, and white cotton costumes that cover their entire bodies save their hands, and except for eye and mouth openings. The fabric faces are simply painted like clowns, and each child–they are the same size and I found myself thinking of them as twins–wears a ruffled collar like a circus performer. I can’t even fathom the back story behind most of the actual photos, but Ransom Rigg’s use of the pictures is fluid and believable.
The story opens with the apathetic protagonist, Jacob Portman, bemoaning his difficult life as the heir to a chain of well over one hundred successful drugstores, and I was intrigued by how well the author depicts teenagers, a subject which with I’m remarkably familiar as a high school teacher. While the opening feels rather mundane, the plot quickly spins into a psychological roller coaster launched by the sudden, ugly death of Jacob’s paranoid grandfather, who was sent away from Poland as a child to escape the fate suffered by the rest of his Jewish family under the Nazi regime. The first photographs featured in the novel are those owned by Jacob’s grandfather, the strange images that reinforced the fantastic stories Jacob believed as a little kid about the haven for children where his grandfather was raised on a tiny island off Wales.
To be fair, I can’t tell you anything else about the plot or I will be providing spoilers. Ruining the plot of this enthralling novel is next door to criminal, so I will just give it my most hearty recommendation. It’s appropriate for readers from about age fourteen upward, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to the stronger readers among my students. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children seems aimed a youth audience, but as a picky reader who has little patience for the over explanation and watered down, predictable plots that haunt youth fiction, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
I was on a waiting list for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children through my public library for a number of weeks, and, as I’ve said, it was so good that I finished it in three hours on the day I finally signed it out. If you want to be chilled a little deeper with the turn of each page, get yourself a copy of this one. The ending leaves room for a sequel, which I heartily look forward to getting my hands on if the next piece of this story is published.
Go read something! Books and summer go together like books and every other season. You need them in your life.
copyright 2012: http://bluespeckledpup.com