Monday, October 31, 2011

Book Nook - Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children written by Ransom Riggs:

This is a creepy novel in which you, the reader, will encounter monsters, a deserted house with a scary basement and dead people that can tell you the identity of their murderer.  Perfect Halloween reading!

I really liked this book a lot, and devoured it in a day or so.  This is the story of Jacob Portman, a well-to-do teenager with only one friend and a Grandpa who tells him ghost stories.  One day Grandpa Portman calls Jacob in a panic - where is the key to the gun cabinet?  How could they all leave me so defenseless?  And don't, whatever you do, come to check up on me because you will be in mortal danger!

So, of course Jacob goes to Grandpa's to check on him, and there he learns that the stories that he has been told all his life were not fictitious.  Grandpa's dying words are a puzzle to Jacob, until he is given a book for his birthday that unlocks the mystery and shows him the path he should take.  This path leads to an island off the coast of Wales, and Jacob goes there to search for the peculiar children of Grandpa's youth and their headmistress, Miss Peregrine.....although, shouldn't these "children" all be in their eighties, at least?

The plot in the story moves along at a perfect pace.  Nothing feels stagnant here, and the reader is given just enough information to keep interested and curious without spoiling any of the many surprises in the story.  I really liked the characters too - the children from a bygone era all seemed very real, and Jacob is a very easy to relate to.  The character of Jacob's father changes a great deal on their journey, but I don't think it was too much of a stretch.

The visual images from this story are wonderful.  I can absolutely picture myself in that old dilapidated house, cringing that I must head to the basement to retrieve the chest that just fell through the worn-out floor.  I can see  Jacob's trip through the bog, and the ancient cairn, and experience the stormy weather on one side, and the bright streaming sun on the other.  But the author does more than just provide a rich visual experience through words: there are also quirky, real vintage photos in which he has written the story around.  These vintage photos are supposed to depict the peculiar children and their many talents.  This is a really unique way of presenting a story (at least to adults) and I can't help but admire the author's creativity and means of coming up with his work.  One of the pictures, for instance, is a silhouette of a woman smoking a pipe.  In the story, we are told that this is Miss Peregrine (but, of course, it's a real-life picture of someone smoking a pipe).  Some of these vintage pictures are very creepy, like the clown kids pulling ribbons out of their mouths.  And some are not creepy in any way, but are used to that effect (like the picture of a little girl with an adult shadow, and we are told in the story that the shadow is a monster about to get her).

Of course, Ransom Riggs' intelligent descriptive language is to thank for a lot of the story's visual imagery.  When Jacob and his new friends run into a lean-to, the author writes, "...its walls made from rough-cut planks, rain weeping through where they had shivered apart like bad teeth." (pg 284).  I realized as I approached the end of the book that the story was not going to get wrapped up in time......and the ending is very open, as Jacob and the peculiar children set off on a new journey.  If there is a sequel, I'm definitely interested in reading it.

Ransom Riggs uses a lot of tricks (interesting characters, intriguing plot, visual imagery through descriptions and vintage photos) to come up with this treat of a novel!  Happy Halloween!


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