A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs.So I feel like this book and I kind of missed each other, conceptually.
It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.
A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.
I was completely sold on Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children being a creepy book. Like straight-up novel-length creepypasta horror story with nifty visual aides, and I don’t think I was completely off-base with that impression. My boyfriend bought it under the same impression, it seemed to have been marketed as such, hell, I didn’t even know it was technically YA until just a few months ago! What I’m getting at is, this book is not what I expected it to be, and if you are expecting the sort of thing I just described, then you will probably be disappointed, too.
House of Leaves, this is not. It’s actually more along the lines of a Percy Jackson/Artemis Fowl-type series.
I know, right? I was totally not expecting that, either. I went looking for an adult horror novel and somehow ended up sitting in a big ol’ pile of Chosen One paranormal YA. I SWEAR I DIDN’T INTEND FOR THIS TO HAPPEN.
Basically, the idea is that Jacob, 16-year-old privileged white boy extraordinaire, witnesses the death of his grandfather, with whom he was exceptionally close. His dying words lead Jacob to the island where the old man spent his childhood, and eventually he discovers a portal to the past, a single day in 1940 looped over and over again to protect the ~peculiar children~ who dwell within it. It’s here that Jacob learns that he is the hero of a ~Generic Secret World Adventure~, and we’re treated to the usual spiel: there are special people in the world with special powers and your grandfather was one of them and so are you! But there are also bad special people who want to kill the good special people, and your grandfather fought them and that was probably why he died, so now they probably want to kill YOU too, so you have to decide what to do about that, oh and also do it pretty fast because we need a conflict so one of the bad special people has improbably stalked you your whole life and tracked you to the island so that you’d lead them to us, and we can have a last-minute boss fight and sequel bait ending!
So yeah I mean the first quarter or so of the book is pretty neat – presumed crazy grandfather leaves grandson with cryptic instructions that he has to decode to discover the secret behind his life and death, all the while grandson is tormented by the memory of the horrifying creature he saw the night his grandfather died. Jacob has got a pretty hardcore case of asshole rich kid syndrome, but aside from that, it’s pretty much the vibe I expected and wanted from the book. The problem is that as soon as Jacob finds the time loop, the curtain is pulled away, and we’re stuck with X-Men Babies.
That was my biggest disappointment with the thing – it just wasn’t the book I wanted to be reading, or the one I felt I’d been sold. Plus, it hinged on one of my least-favorite sci-fi/fantasy tropes ever: the portal to the past. I don’t know why, exactly, I just find that the most boring fuckin’ thing to center a plot around.
But ok, putting my personal expectations aside, it’s not a terrible book. I mean yeah, I still do find the Special Boy narrative boring as fuck, and the children are at times almost unbearably precocious, but the writing and storytelling are solid. The world and its monsters are presumably of the author’s own invention, and the story engages with its own fridge horror more freely than most YA titles do.
On the flip side, while the book occasionally engages with more mature themes and ideas, the rest of it reads super middle-grade, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were originally written for a younger audience and then revised YA. The plotline is really basic and predictable and can only progress the way it does thanks to children’s logic, which is handy, because the MC and all of his eventual companions act about three or four years younger than they actually are. I mean, the 40’s kids you can excuse because it was the 40’s and their arrested development is the whole point, but Jacob? I’d buy him at twelve, thirteen, maybe fourteen. Not sixteen. No way in hell.
That being said, if you mentally de-age them all, the whole thing works a lot better. Jacob’s companions are fun in an 80’s kid’s movie kind of way – you have the Strong One (a girl!) and the Smart One and the Jerk One and the Spunky One and then our Hero, who is totally under-powered, yet still winds up the Leader, because protagonist.
It doesn’t work as well for the MC’s Love Interest, though. Emma has the potential to be an interesting and powerful character on her own, but she’s trapped here by her role and the mandatory romance. She’s a young girl from a boy-in-the-midst-of-puberty’s perspective: feisty and bossy and rough and tumble but damnably attractive enough to give him that awkward adolescent boner. Of course, it’s an awkward boner for a whole host of other reasons, too, and also never actually a boner, because middle-grade, but I digress. Their whole relationship is weird and rushed and full of vaguely incestuous baggage, but it’s not the focus of the novel, so the whole messy lot of it just sort of falls by the wayside. Obligatory romance, check, moving on.
I actually found Miss Peregrine herself fun and interesting, and it’s kind of a shame, as usual, that the story doesn’t focus on or feature her more heavily.
The villain is predictable but doesn’t come in to focus until the last few chapters, where he reveals himself in all his improbable, monologuing glory. The climax reaches back for the creepiness that it had in the beginning, with its weird, gory monster chase, but by then we know what the monsters are and we have the Percy Jackson kid’s series context, so it loses most, if not all, of the tension and mystery. The resolution is 100% child logic – I s2g, what goddamn parent is just totally cool with letting their 16-year-old fuck off to who knows when or where with a bunch of mysterious babies they’ve never seen before? Okay, some might, but Jacob’s father doesn’t strike me as one of them, plus what in god’s name is he going to tell Jacob’s mother and the rest of the family?!? But whatever, they ride off into the 1940’s sunset, X-Men Babies gonna save the day, the end.
It’s also worth noting that while there plenty of women, this book is white and straight and privileged as fuck.
So yeah, I mean, that’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. It’s not scary, it’s only briefly creepy, the gimmick is a neat idea, but often shoe-horned into the narrative, it’s young, and it devolves into a pretty generic set-up for an inevitable series. BUT if you squint and pretend that it’s an 80’s children’s movie a’la The Goonies or Monster Squad, it holds up a lot better. You guys might like it fine if you’re prepared ahead of time, but it’s just not what I’m looking for right now, so I probably won’t bother with the sequel, unless one of you guys make a good case for it.
TWO AND A HALF STARS
So I’m thinking of making the next two months a ~Halloween Spooktacular~ with nothing but creepy horror novels of both the YA and adult variety, because that’s just the mood I’m in. Anyone have any recommendations?