Thursday, January 26, 2012

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

"A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs.

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."

How's that for an inaccurate cover synopsis? I'll leave it be, since it isn't too misleading and I don't want to bother coming up with my own. I'll file this one away as a book I don't regret reading and probably won't be reading again.

Ransom Riggs tries very hard to create an atmosphere in this novel. He's got some nice ingredients for it, too. A crumbling house with a mysterious past, strange old photographs, and cryptic messages from a deceased grandfather. However, while Riggs does manage to dig up some nice imagery and a few creepy scenes, it never coalesces into a full atmosphere. His writing is clean but contrived, and that never allows a real mystery to build. I enjoyed romping around the world he created, and his pacing was just quick enough to keep me turning pages. His main character, too, was pleasantly real. Reading him felt like walking around with a real sixteen year old boy who is both awkward and self-conscious as well as stubborn and unknowingly brave. His reactions to the girl (yes, there is "a girl" for him) are refreshingly simple. He doesn't look upon her once and see his soul mate or read her mind or any of the other popular "this is love" things you see in most YA novels these days. He's confused by her, a little intimidated, and he'd probably like to kiss her if he gets the chance.

I only wish the other characters felt as genuine as the narrator, though. Riggs makes his brief introductory sketches for each new character with bold strokes, but the characters quickly flatten out and become mere tools to the plot without substance of their own. That means the relationships between the characters are stunted as well, and that is a great pity indeed with such a plot and backstory.

All that aside, my main gripe with this text is the photos. Fairly early on it becomes clear that instead of using the photos to tell the story, Riggs is writing the story to show the photos. After the first few admittedly creepy photos, he comes up with stranger and stranger reasons to include more photos that are neither creepy nor believable within the context he gives them. Instead of drawing you into the story as he hopes, they draw you out again as you wonder why they are there at all. Who took all these photos? Why does whoever has this photo have it? I wonder if the photos would have made more sense had Riggs made something more of the desire to have/take photos or used visual imagery as some sort of theme within his mythology.

A sequel is promised, and while I'm glad to see these characters get another chance I've also heard the author has "started collecting photos already".

Rating: Three out of five. (Three out of five what? Stars? Bookmarks? Smiley stickers? I haven't decided yet. And does it really matter?)

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