This is exactly the weird-ass kind of stuff I like. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is marketed as a young adult novel, but it has a dark element that makes it appealing to adults of certain literary proclivities, as well. And it’s left wide open for a sequel.
Jacob, the main character and narrator, is a fifteen year old boy whose grandfather used to tell him stories about fighting off monsters with a team of magically gifted children. Jacob believes these are just stories, until he finds his grandfather dying after an attack by one of these monsters. Traumatized by what he’s seen, Jacob goes off on a quest to find out what killed his grandfather and whether his stories hold any more truth.
The story incorporates real antique (as in, these are actual photographs that people have taken themselves or found in shops, flea markets, etc.), faked (as in, the subjects of the photos have clearly been doctored) photos of children performing impossible feats. These add a delightfully eerie atmosphere.
The narrator’s voice is oddly inconsistent. Sometimes, we hear the voice of a modern-day fifteen year old boy, and other times the voice of a well-read adult writer. This back-and-forth makes me wonder if Riggs couldn’t decide whether he was writing a YA novel or simply a very straightforward fantasy featuring a teen protagonist, and whether this didn’t cause him to shift between voices as he wrote. It’s too bad; had Riggs written in the third person and kept to his adult voice throughout, it would have elevated the tone of the book, and seemed more appropriate for a story that uses some pretty classic elements: a creepy, run-down old house, an orphanage, strange British children, and a wise old governessy figure.
The book could also have been made richer had Riggs spent more time fleshing out a few side plots. I would have liked to know more about Jacob’s grandfather. We’re given facts about him and some basic descriptions, but his motivations for making major decisions are not deeply explored. It seems that we should know more about the person who is responsible for the sequence of events that make up the book. Jacob is also curiously unattached to his parents. In most fantasy/sci fi series, the author does away with the difficulties of dealing with adults by getting rid of them one way or another. Here, we’re given a few “ins” as to the nature of Jacob’s parents’ personalities, hang-ups, and relationship, but never any real understanding. Why would the book tell us as much as it does about these people only to later make it clear that they’re only plot devices created to provide Jacob with some logistical difficulties? Knowing about these people would have helped me understand Jacob himself better, and made me care that much more about what happened to him. The only people he is ever strongly emotionally attached to are his grandfather, who dies so early in the book we barely have time to grasp the importance of their connection, and Emma, a young girl whose attractions to a fifteen year old boy are obvious.
We also learn only elementary rules about the new people and places Jacob discovers, though I’m assuming Riggs intends to explore these in at least one sequel.
It’s these weaknesses, finally, that make Miss Peregrine a young adult novel in more than just marketing terms. Many YA novels become characterized as such simply by virtue of the fact that they feature a young adult protagonist, but anyone who’s read Ender’s Game or Robert Cormier knows that some YA novels are really just straight-up excellent fiction. Still, I enjoyed reading this book. It has a great premise, a fantastically dark atmospheric quality, and more than enough meat for me to keep an eye out for any continuation in sequel form.