If you were a young book lover like myself, you might remember when people used to read stories to you before you could read. You would look at the pictures, imagining how they connected with the words. You may even have 'read' stories to yourself or others using those pictures. You couldn't read, so you would just look at the pictures and make up a story based on what was happening in them.
That is the concept behind Ransom Riggs' first novel Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.
Watch this short video Riggs put on his youtube channel back in January.
Do you find yourself making up stories to go with the pictures, even if you know nothing about the people in them?
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a unique combination of images and text. It is a novel, based on pictures. Riggs collected vintage photographs from some of his friends' collections and built a story around them. It's hard to say which came first - the story or the photos, but in the novel they create a unity.
When Jacob was little, his grandfather used to tell him stories from his childhood. He told him about how he grew up on an island in Wales, in a home full of peculiar children - X-men type people with strange powers. One little girl could hold fire in her hands, one girl could levitate, one little boy was invisible, etc. He told Jacob about how they all had to hide in a house on the island because they were running from monsters. When Jacob was young he loved to believe in these stories because it meant "it was possible to live a magical life." But as he got older, and got teased for believing in fairy tales, he realized his grandpa had made the stories up, and called him a liar. Jacob's father told him that he hadn't necessarily made them up but had just exaggerated the truth. He had gone to the island in Wales as a Polish, Jewish refugee during the war, and the monsters he and the other refugee children were hiding from were the Nazis.
When Jacob is a young teenager, his grandfather suddenly dies under mysterious circumstances and his last words leave Jacob wondering if his stories really were true...
Watch the book trailer here:
I really enjoyed this book, I thought it worked well as a young adult fantasy/mystery novel, I didn't find any flaws in the magic realism, the characters were good. But what I found very interesting about it was how Riggs worked the photos into the story. Throughout the novel, whenever the narrator (Jacob) is describing a new character, he recalls a photo his grandfather showed him once. He describes the photo and then we see it on the adjacent page. Rather than just have the photos work as illustrations of what is happning in the book, the photos are actually a part of the book.
While this is a story about a boy discovering he isn't who he thought he was and the world doesn't work the way he thought it did (typical coming of age fantasy YA stuff,) it is also a book about coping with the loss of a loved one and learning that maybe they weren't who you thought you were. In that sense it reminded me a bit of Deathly Hallows since that is a central theme of that book as well.
At one point, Jacob says of his grandfather, "There were things about him that I needed to be true...When I was a kid, Grandpa Portman's stories meant it was possible to live a magical life. Even after I stopped believing them, there was still something magical about my grandfather. To have endured all the horrors he did, to have seen the worst of humanity and have your life made unrecognizable by it, to come out of all that the honorable and good and brave person I knew him to be -that was magical. So I couldn't believe he was a liar and a cheater and a bad father. Because if Grandpa Portman wasn't honorable and good, I wasn't sure anyone could be."
Jacob not only has to cope with the realization that he isn't who he thought, and the world isn't what he thought it was, but he also has to struggle with the possibility that his childhood hero wasn't who he thought he was.
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a beautifully crafted novel, captivating, mysterious, and touching. One thing, though - it doesn't have much closure. It leaves things pretty open-ended, so if you are someone who can't stand waiting to find out what happens next, maybe wait until the next book is out so you can read it right away.
Riggs' website says there will be a sequel. No mention of a series yet, but he does promise a sequel, so that is something to look forward to.
Click the book to buy the book.