Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a uniquely clever and intriguing blend of fantasy with a series of intriguing, dare I say peculiar, old photographs from private collections. These photographs are often as intriguing to the reader as they clearly were to the author, and their integration into the story is the novel’s greatest success, lending it a wonderfully dark, moody, and whimsical texture. The story itself, however, does not quite live up to the promise of this unique and intriguing blend of vintage photographs and fantasy novel.
Fifteen-year-old Jacob Portman loves his grandfather dearly. He has spent his life listening to the old man’s stories, stories of monsters, magical children, and the wise old peregrine who watched over them. Jacob is too old to believe in fairy stories now, even when he sees his grandfather’s old photos. He knows that his grandfather was the only one of his family to escape Poland and the concentration camps in WWII, and that the “monsters” of the stories are Nazis dressed up and made palatable for children. Jacob knows all of this, until his grandfather is killed, and he starts to see the monsters himself. Trying to understand his grandfather, and come to terms with what happened eventually takes Jacob and his father to a small island off the coast of Wales, where the orphanage from his grandfather’s stories used to be. Jacob finds the sad, bombed-out ruins of the home, and almost gives up. Then he discovers that it isn’t as abandoned as it appears.
The opening of the novel is wonderfully mysterious. It draws the reader into a strange off kilter world enhanced by the photographs. Jacob’s family life, as he attempts to cope is well drawn: his parent’s shaky marriage, the psychiatrist visits. The island itself is suitably atmospheric, as well, but once the plot starts in earnest, the novel begins to come apart slightly. The peculiar children are, with a few exceptions, largely forgettable, and the titular Miss Peregrine never made as large an impression on me as intended. Perhaps Riggs hoped that the pictures of a pipe-smoking Victorian woman, which he included, would provide the necessary impressions.
The plot itself, once the mysteries are revealed, is relatively straightforward and unremarkable. The beauty of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children lies not in the story, but in how it is told. The artful use of vintage pictures is brilliantly matched with a well-written, though not flawless, young adult fantasy. This is a promising start to the series, and despite a few reservations I look forward to the recently released sequel.