By Ellen Ryan
Ah, book recommendations. I’ve spent a good deal of my first year on JET drinking up and devouring every recommendation given to me. Reading once again became a wonderfully time-consuming past-time, especially in those first weeks after arriving where I was without internet. I’m Ellen, and I’m taking over from the wonderful Rebecca who helped me fill my bookcase here in the past year. Hopefully, I can do her column some justice and share some of my own recent reads with all of you. So, if your wi-fi is as unreliable as mine, or just feel like picking up something new, here’s a book you might want to pass the time with.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: a book recommended to me rather recently, and also one that is due to have its own movie released this month (for most countries). This is the sort of book I would have snatched up in seconds before the chaos of university: fantasy, superpowers, mystery, monsters, time travelling… the usual combination that screams for attention from Young Adult fantasy fans. However, despite it coming out back in 2011, I missed it. If there’s been hype surrounding it, I’m not sure, but I’m definitely late to the party in getting taken into the story – and taken in you get, it’s been a while since I’ve been so quickly lost in a written world.
Miss Peregrine’s is told from the point of view of Jacob Portman, and it opens on his grandfather’s stories of monsters and his life in a Welsh children’s home, ran by an old bird who smoked a pipe. As you might expect, the prologue quickly turn from a young Jacob (and the reader, for that matter) being fascinated by Grandpa Portman’s fantastical tales, to being a sceptical teenager who resented him for making him believe in the ‘fairy stories’. That’s when we shift into the Before and After: the Before being Jacob’s normal life in America, and the After being his journey after an extraordinary and terrible thing makes him question just how much truth was in those childhood stories.
The book does an amazing job of taking the reader along on Jacob’s journey. Despite knowing that somewhere along the lines, Jacob will surely discover the truth behind this magical children’s home and it’s inhabitants, Riggs manages to make us doubt aspects of his grandfather’s stories. Whilst Jacob spends his time struggling with battles of reason and belief in his own mind, we as readers try to unravel just which parts of the stories are true, and how it will come to light. There were many times I ended up second guessing myself, and it’s rather thrilling being able to try and work out the answers to the mysteries.
As a Brit myself, I will admit maybe I was a little selfishly pleased to see Jacob’s story taking him to Britain – Wales, to be exact – and the descriptions and images Riggs conjures up of my home islands are pretty wonderful. It’s one of the reasons I think the book is easy for you to lose yourself in: he transports you so easily to that little island off the Welsh coast.
Ultimately, the place we end up with Jacob is Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, the setting that gives the series and first book their titles. From the moment Jacob steps into their hidden little world, you meet one of the most intriguing and vibrant casts I’ve seen in a while: from Emma, the fiery (in every sense of the world) girl, who becomes Jacob’s closest friend and confidant; to Millard, the invisible boy, whose perfect quips have made him my favourite by far; all the way down to Miss Peregrine herself: the old bird in charge of the home, who shows that even the ‘responsible adult’ of the story may have her own faults and journey to go on. The characters are the true life of the story, understandably so, since Riggs got the whole idea of the series from the strange vintage photographs showing peculiar children.
The conflict of the story comes in the form of the old monsters from Grandpa Portman’s stories, and what monsters they are. Riggs has managed to create a group of villains unlike anything I’ve ever read, and whist I won’t spoil too much of the plot for you, I will say that he even succeeds in creating a backstory that lives up to the horror that they are. Though it’s obvious from the onset that these monsters will eventually come after Jacob and his new friends, their goals and their identities were both things that I would never have guessed. Any book that manages to both surprise and horrify me with the big reveal is a book that goes on the history list.
If I had to pick a fault with this story, it would be the romance aspect of it. Whilst I perhaps should have expected it somewhere hidden inside a YA book, part of me held onto hope that this author wouldn’t feel the need to stick the ‘romance’ tag onto the list of genres. The relationship between Jacob and Emma starts out interesting: Emma’s previous relationship with Grandpa Portman makes for a wonderful tension between them, but as the story progress the tension seems to vanish too quickly, replaced by a forced attraction. I will say that Riggs does make Jacob’s confusion on the situation clear in the narrative, but as a whole the romance feels forced – and ultimately, pretty unhealthy.
I’m currently nearly finished the second book of the trilogy now, and from what I’ve read the plot continues to be promising. The first book did a great job with the main characters’ development, but the second expands even more on some of the other children, fleshing them out and letting you watch as each of them finally starts to grow up just a little bit.
If you’re into the fantasy genre, or a fan of anything to do with magic powers, groups of kids outsmarting adults, or battling intriguing monsters, I’d definitely suggest checking out Miss Peregrine’s. Riggs manages to meld together a wonderful and curious make-believe world with real history, and fills it with characters that never fail to make you feel something. You love them, you laugh at them, at times you are so utterly infuriated by them you may actually throw the book across the room… but in the first book alone, you can see the hints of what gems these characters could become.