Boy, that’s a mouthful. Let’s see how often I can avoid typing that title in this post. (Or I can just copy and paste the title whenever I need to use it. Guess we’ll see.)
I didn’t really know anything about this book before starting it. A friend was reading it, it sounded interesting, I marked it in my to-read list, and now I have this book and its two sequels in my “borrowed from friends” pile of books to read.
I didn’t even know if I wanted to talk about this book before finishing the next two. I’m under the assumption this is a trilogy, but for all I know it could still be an ongoing series. I guess I could look it up, but I wouldn’t want to spoil the mystery for myself. :p
In the end, I thought it might be fun to review a series blind one book at a time, so here we are. Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is about this teen named Jacob and his discovery of a hidden group of people with interesting powers and abilities. His grandfather had told stories of them as a child, but Jacob eventually stopped believing when he got too old. When his grandfather is killed by a monster that only Jacob saw, his family sets him up with a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist eventually convinces Jacob to visit the home his grandfather grew up in, which was like an orphanage for these peculiar kids, so Jacob can develop much needed closure for his grandfather’s sudden death.
The house is in ruin, but some of the kids from his grandfather’s story appear when they hear Jacob exploring it. They think it’s his grandfather, but when they realize it’s someone else they flee. Jacob follows them and is eventually taken hostage by one of the kids, a girl named Emma. She thinks he wants to kill them and is very hostile for a while, but eventually warms up and brings him back to the orphanage — at a different time.
There are certain areas around the world that contain a space that continually loops through the same time frame, and this home is one of those locations. When Jacob visits the house during the present it’s in shambles, blown apart during WWII, but Emma can take him through some kind of gateway to visit the home in the past, before it blew up. That’s where/when these children live, with their caretaker Miss Peregrine.
Miss Peregrine generously lets Jacob come and go through the time loop over the next several days, and he learns more about his grandfather. His ability was that he could see the monsters that attack these peculiars, the hollowgast, or simply hollows (and for those that remember my anime retrospective, yes, I was thinking of Bleach the whole time). It turns out Jacob’s grandfather was killed by a hollowgast. Miss Peregrine wants Jacob to stay not only because he’s a peculiar, but because his gift is key to survival.
Eventually a hollowgast begins attacking the town around the house (in the present), and Jacob, Emma, and a handful of other peculiars get mixed up with it. There’s a complex series of events that involve the kidnapping of Miss Peregrine, the time loop on their house closing, fighting the hollowgast, and pursuing a wight (an intelligent, evolved hollowgast), and the book eventually closes with Jacob and ten peculiars setting out to find a new time loop.
I guess the first thing I should mention about this book is the use of photographs. Throughout the novel, there are a number of unsettling black and white pictures depicting many of the children and other events in the book. These were included from a collection of strange photos and while they’re interesting, they don’t always work or even seem necessary. In the beginning of the book, when Jacob’s grandfather is actually showing him pictures of the kids he’s describing, this is a useful addition to help visualize what’s going on in the story. Later, however, it sort of feels like the story is going out of its way to write around a photograph that may not even have been needed in the first place. At first it feels like they’re actual photos Jacob looks through, but then it sort of feels like a supplement for the reader. I do appreciate they’re included, though. The majority of them are pretty unsettling and interesting, and the ones depicting the children gave me a better idea of who they were than if I had just read the descriptions of them.
The pictures may give you the impression the book is creepier than it actually is, though. The first third or so is more unsettling than the rest of the novel, although it never reaches a level that I would classify as horror. The first part is more rooted in reality. There’s a really interesting section that describes how the stories Jacob’s grandfather told were just altered realities to numb the pain of the Holocaust. Being peculiar really meant being Jewish, and the home he grew up with was something akin to refugees, for example.
Once Jacob is introduced to the world of peculiars, however, the tone drastically changes to that of a fantasy novel. We’re suddenly being introduced to a different world and culture with kids that have a variety of unusual powers. In a way, Miss Peregrine and her peculiars sort of remind me of Professor Xavier and the X-Men. I’m not the biggest superhero fan, but from what I remember I think that’s a fair comparison. The mood shifts to something more adventurous, and I guess this can be viewed as a bad thing if you went in hoping for a creepy book. Since I had no expectations this didn’t really bother me, but I think the transition could have been a little smoother.
A lot of the book could use a little more polishing, if I had to nitpick. I’d say as a whole the book was pretty good in terms of sentence structure, but some parts of the book needed a little more transitioning. There’s a pretty hefty information dump about the hollowgast and how they came to be that could have been introduced a little less forcefully, and we could have gotten to know more of the kids better instead of the standard “this is x, he’s got the power to blah, and this is y, she can blah” (although that seems to be pretty standard for these types of stories, so I don’t hold that too much against the author).
The characters could use a little more development too, although I wouldn’t say any of them are bad. Most of the peculiars only have their ability to go by in terms of personality, and I unfortunately ended up getting confused about who was who fairly often (but at least I remembered the important ones!). Emma’s pretty interesting; she can conjure up fire and she has an angry, emotional temper that makes her feel more real. Along with the fact that she had feelings for Jacob’s grandfather and dealt with his rejection all these years and hear news of his death, she’s definitely the most interesting character.
Jacob himself isn’t bad, although a number of reviews have said otherwise. He’s got a typical “my parents want me to be this but I want something else I don’t quite know yet” vibe going on, but his concentration on processing and coping with his grandfather’s death made him feel relatable for a while. When he’s introduced into the peculiars’ world, however, he becomes a pretty standard every man that serves more or less as the link between us and their world. He gets everything explained to him, and he’s pretty awestruck by everything. He also develops a lot of standard, young hero tropes pretty quickly too, such as proclaiming he’d rather die than sell out his friends, demanding truths that have been kept from him by Miss Peregrine, etc. Again, not bad, but he displays a lot of run-of-the-mill qualities you would expect from a main character when you wish he would be forming more of an identity for himself.
Jacob and Emma also develop a romantic relationship. In regards to characters, this is the other major complaint I found a lot of people had with the book. When Jacob’s grandfather was young and living with the peculiars, I guess they had either a relationship or developing feelings for each other, and it was hard on Emma after he left, grew old with someone else, and died. Emma, along with the rest of the peculiars, didn’t age at all during the time loop, so even though she’s decades old, she’s still a teenager with teenager emotions. So a lot of people see this as a 70 or 80 year old woman hooking up with a teenager and frown upon it.
If she was actually an old woman this would be an issue, but since it’s a fantasy story and this is one of those weird situations where age and body aging aren’t in sync with each other, I think it’s important to note this isn’t the same thing as pedophilia many people insist is happening. Despite the number of years they’ve lived, the peculiars have been stuck in their young bodies and still act like children and teens. They’re teenagers, just, you know… for decades. I mean, the entire concept of Twilight is largely accepted, right? It’s okay for super old Edward to creep on high school Bella because he’s been a teenager for all these years, right? I don’t know. This criticism just seems stupid considering how fairly common this is in fantasy type stories. What’s next, is Moaning Myrtle from Harry Potter not allowed to flirt with Harry and Ron just because she’s a kid ghost that’s lived for 60 or so years after her death? Give me a break.
What is a good criticism is that Jacob’s hooking up with his grandfather’s ex. Despite the rules of aging this book presents, that fact is kind of messed up. To be fair, the novel addresses this several times, and Jacob does resist Emma for a while. But in the end, it still feels like he gave in a little too easily. It feels awkward in that way someone you know might start dating his brother’s girlfriend just after breaking up.
Honestly, though, I like the romance. I thought it was cute. Part of me was reminded when I was a kid, just on the verge of becoming a teenager. Becoming part of a fantasy world and getting involved with a girl from that world seems a lot like a daydream I would have back then. So there’s a nice sense of innocence there, at least from my perspective.
And there’s also room for a darker perspective, too. Jacob’s a single teen, of course he’d like to be with a girl he’s attracted to and who’s attracted to him. But then there’s Emma, who’s been more or less trapped in the same house with the same people, pining over the same man for like 60+ years. Then here comes a new person her own age (you know what I mean), and he looks very much like the guy she’ll never be with, and she forms an immediate attachment to him. Does she like Jacob? Is she just using Jacob to feel like she’s with his grandfather? This relationship has so much potential to get beautifully complicated. At the end of the day it’s a YA novel and I shouldn’t get my hopes up, but… well, I’ll keep my fingers crossed this gets explored a little more. 🙂
Overall, I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read so far. If this book was self-contained, I’d say it was more disappointing. But since it very much feels like the first part in something larger, I’m comfortable admitting I had a good time with it. It could use some polishing, but it was definitely one of the better YA books I’ve read lately. I’d say give it a chance, just understand it might not be the creepy little horror experience the front cover may suggest it is. If all goes well, I might have the second book finished and a new review up by next week. But it may take a little longer, so we’ll see. Hope everyone’s having a great week! 🙂
Info for my edition of Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children:
- Published 2011 by Quirk Books
- Hardcover, 352 pages
- ISBN 978-1-59474-476-1