Goodreads: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Series: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children #1
Jacob grew up hearing his grandfather’s stories about being raised in an orphanage where the children possessed unusual abilities from super strength to levitation, an orphanage that was the only place they were safe from the monsters. For a time Jacob believed these stories, until his father explained them away. But then his grandfather dies from a mysterious attack and Jacob swears that, for a moment, he saw the monsters, too. To convince himself of his own sanity, Jacob travels to the island where Miss Peregrine’s orphanage once stood and explores the abandoned mansion in search of his grandfather’s past. His search reveals an incredible secret–the fact that the orphans might still be alive.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children intrigued me from the start. Its combination of prose with startling vintage photography suggests a creepy and a unique read. However, though the book begins with promise, the story loses momentum just when readers might expect it to become really interesting–with the introduction of Miss Peregrine’s “peculiar” children. Suddenly, the story transforms from a slightly threatening mystery to a somewhat standard fantasy. Possibly the fantasy is not all that bad, but when readers are expecting something else, the fantasy simply fails to enthrall.
The book begins beautifully largely because of the relationship between the protagonist Jacob and his grandfather. The two are very close and bond in part through the grandfather’s stories about growing up in an orphanage with magical children while hiding from monsters. The explanation that the grandfather, in fact, fled to an island off Wales when the Nazis destroyed his family, offers complexity to his character while not erasing the sense that his monsters are more than psychological; Jacob’s turning away from his grandfather’s stories as he “grows up” seems a bitter betrayal, if perhaps not unnatural for a teen. Their relationship underpins the entire story and gives it heart and meaning when the rest of the elements fail.
The typical death of the mentor figure to propel the protagonist into action thus seems in this case a terrible miscalculation. I would have welcomed Jacob and his grandfather as a team, but regret that, ultimately, the grandfather becomes little more than a plot device. Unfortunately, unlike other teen heroes (like Harry Potter, for example), Jacob seems to have little reason for a propulsion anywhere. His grandfather vaguely mentions finding safety at his old orphanage, but not much suggests Jacob is yet unsafe where he is. His journey to the “peculiars” is therefore unconvincing–it makes sense that he wants to learn more about his grandfather’s past, but not that he would so easily accept a new life with a group of people he’s just met in favor of his old one with his family. Yes, his family misunderstands him and all, but his choice comes across as callous even for a confused teen. In the end, the saving of the peculiars really belongs more to the grandfather who knew and loved them than it does to newcomer Jacob. Disposing of the grandfather so early on just so Jacob can have some emotional character development creates an unconvincing story.
The other characters, despite their magical abilities, are never as compelling as Jacob’s grandfather. One might have expected from the odd vintage photos and from the hints of ghastly monsters that their world would be odd and scary, but once the book explains how that world works, the enchantment falls away. Suddenly they no longer inhabit an eerie world of ghosts and mysterious phenomena, but a world of order with rather typical monsters hunting in rather typical ways. The children themselves fail to add any charm, revealing themselves as quite normal with their everyday squabbles and jealousies. I think I was supposed to find the female lead interesting at least, but after a rather unusual introduction, she reveals herself to be nothing more than the love interest who validates the male hero’s entrance into her world by giving her approval.
The sequel promises the usual standard fantasy fare of a battle for survival as the magical children face the monsters who hunt them, but I do not care enough about any of them or even about their world to follow them there. I picked up the book for something unusual, not for a plot I can find in dozens of other works. The most unique aspect of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is the creepiness; once that falls away, the story falls apart, too.