Have you ever been reading a book and, slowly but suddenly, your eyes bulged out of their sockets as you took in exactly what was happening? Have you ever been completely shocked as a book lead you in an entirely different direction than the one that you had anticipated? Did you shake your head in disbelief but, deep down, know with certainty that you believed it all? If you’ve ever felt goosebumps creep along your arm, your body freeze in fear, or a racing heart, as if you, too, were running alongside the characters in a book, you know exactly what I am talking about.
You know all about my experience reading MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN.
This is, undoubtedly, my top YA book for 2011. It is AMAZING. Simply marvellous. Unexpectedly artistic. Unexpected…everything. Contemporary. Terrifying. Delightfully creepy. Enchanting. Highly creative. A spine-tingling eeriness permeates the entire novel, from front to back, picture to picture. There is something magical about this book.
I loved it because it is not like the typical YA books I’ve read lately. I picked it up in the Young Adult section, but can it even be classified as YA? This is a book for everyone. Boys, girls, adults, teens, and your grandfather. Actually, I’ve never read anything like it. Ransom Riggs snagged my expectations and held them upside-down by the ankles.
Initially, I was attracted to the book’s intriguing cover: a little girl levitating in a forest. I thought, Well that spells paranormal/horror to me. Is this is a horror book? I’m not really a fan of horror due to my predilection to stay awake all night paralyzed in fear, or periodically glance behind me — keeping a wary eye out for monsters, villains, murderers, and the like — while doing perfectly normal things, like walking down the street. But curiosity won me over and I bought it.
There are a handful of terrifying moments, moments that, admittedly, I did take a second to look around my room, as though a three-eyed, multi-tongued monster may have materialized there, but it is not a scary story. It’s a little bit horrifying, fantastical, and comedic but cannot justly be classified as simply Horror, Fantasy, or Humor. Like I said, it’s hardly even YA. Confused? I know.
The book takes place in Florida, where 16-year old Jacob, our realistic, funny, and compassionate narrator, works at Smart-Aid, a drugstore of debilitating boredom (and one that his mother’s rich family owns). He is very close with his kind, secretive, military-minded grandfather on his dad’s side, Abraham, who always told him mysterious stories about his youth — about how he had fled during World War II, about the house that he grew up in, filled with peculiar children with peculiar abilities. One girl could levitate. One had a mouth in the back of her head. Another boy was invisible, and one could give life to inanimate objects. At this age, and after seeing his grandfather slip slowly into senility, Jacob eventually comes to terms with his grandfather’s beloved stories, believing them to be nothing more than fantasy and childish lore.
How wrong he is.
One day, Jacob comes home after a terror-filled phone call from his grandfather, and finds him dying. Shocked and heartbroken, Jacob holds him and listens to his last words: “Find the bird. In the loop. On the other side of the old man’s grave. September third, 1940…Emerson — the letter. Tell them what happened, Yakob.”
And that’s when Jacob sees it: a black monster with three tongues, staring out at him from the trees. And then it is gone. This is what murdered his grandfather. The story that follows is Jacob’s quest — through time and space — to decipher and fulfill those last words, while coming to grips with his own reality on a mysterious European island full of very, very peculiar children.
The vintage photographs add life, vitality, and the perfect dose of creepiness to the book — is the story centered around the pictures, or are the pictures centered around the story? It doesn’t matter. They blend perfectly. The best part is that they are all authentic, chosen from a vast array of collectors around the world, who are listed at the back of the book as “the unsung heroes of the photography world.”
Ransom Riggs is an excellent writer, effectively portraying the many sides to his endearing characters, especially Jacob’s insights and thoughts. He was such a well-developed character that I could instantly relate to him. The ending was a cliffhanger, leaving me unbearably curious. I can’t wait to read the next book. MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN is a must-read.