07 August 2011
For the time being, life sucks for teenager Jacob Portman. Oh, sure, he comes from a wealthy Florida family and wants for nothing, but he's recently been depressed lately. And who wouldn't be? He found his eccentric grandfather viciously mauled to death by dogs. Problem is, Jacob knows his grandfather didn't die that way. His grandfather was actually killed by monsters, a reflection of the strange childhood the former used to tell Jacob about when he was younger, a childhood that involves a strange school on a secluded Welsh island that housed children who were invisible or capable of levitating. Of course, try telling the true story to anyone, and you get shipped off rather promptly to a shrink, which is exactly what happens to Jacob. Fortunately for his own peace of mind, he is able to connive a visit to the island his grandfather talked about to prove to himself whether or not the older man's stories had any basis in fact. There, he discovers that his grandfather's seemingly fictional tales are very real. . . .
I came across this unique young adult book while working at the library. One of my coworkers was reading about it on Amazon. We both were attracted to the creepy cover, so she ended up reading it. She told me the book wasn't spectacular but was undeniably weird. Naturally, I couldn't resist giving it a try. Ransom Riggs's Miss Peregrine's School For Peculiar Children is an uneven book with its share of flaws, but it is certainly unique and has enough good points that I recommend it.
After discussing this book with two other people who have read it, all three of us concurred that the best adjective for it is, ahem, "peculiar." It's not scary--Don't fear! This book will not give you nightmares--but it is certainly eerie. This haunting gothic atmopshere is exactly why I recommend it. The creepy gothic pictures that accompany the text play a substantial role in creating this atmosphere. In fact, even if this book isn't your cup of tea, I recommend checking it out just to look at the pictures, which range from levitating girls to creepy clown children. They are that good! Apparently, Riggs used actual old photos that he found in various collectors' stashes and then worked the images into the story. Overall, I thought he did a fairly good job of working random pictures into a a fairly cohesive plot. Occasionally, the plot did seem a little contrived--as if there were certain pictures that Riggs wanted to include just because they were so cool; thus, he added a related element in the story. Nevertheless, the effect more than makes up for this problem.
Personally, I had a bit of a hard time liking Jacob. Oh, he's not awful, not by any stretch of the imagination. He's just like every other somewhat sarcastic troubled YA hero I've met lately. I would have liked someone with a little more depth and individuality. The person he reminds me most of is Percy Jackson--more on that in a minute--but I found Percy a little more accessible. Jacob's first person narration is still pretty funny, though, and I don't necessarily have to like the protagonist to enjoy a book.
My only real complaint with the book is that about midway through, the story transitions from a good dark gothic horror/mystery story to a run-of-the-mill fantasy adventure, a la Percy Jackson. I like a good fantasy adventure, such as the aforementioned Percy Jackson series, but I was enjoying the gothic aspects of the story, so I felt a little cheated when the tone switched. To the book's credit, it's action-packed fantasy adventure with its own unique spin on the genre.
The ending leads me to believe that a sequel in the works, but I can't find anything to confirm that on the internet. I'm not sure the story is quite strong enough to generate a YA series, but I'll withhold judgment until I read any sequels. Riggs is certainly a creative writer with an eye for the eccentric, so I don't doubt that any follow-up would be equally as whimsical and strange . . . and feature just as many amazing photos! ^^
If you like gothic horror or are hankering for another fantasy adventure read now that Percy Jackson's series is at an end, I recommend Miss Peregrine's School For Peculiar Children. It's certainly not a book for everyone, but it has its charms, one being that it's a quirky fast-paced read, perfect for summer! At the very least, pick it up and skim the pictures. I kid you not--they are delightfully creepy.
Next Time: I have no idea.
This Week In Literary History: 5 August 1850: French writer Guy de Maupassant is born. Truth is, I've only read one of his stories--"The Necklace"--but it's such a good short story! You should definitely read it if you never have.