Upon finishing Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children more than a week ago, I scurried to Twitter to announce what an “amazing and disquieting book” it was, and that it left me “awed and scream-ish,” and even thanked the author Ransom Riggs for letting me read a book that cobbled together a story [that also hinted at greater possibilities] from a seemingly disparate collective of photographs.
It’s been more than a week ago, and I’ve discovered, settling down to write this, that my opinion has pretty much changed—a vision that seemed so inventive, now seemed like a pastiche of fantasy and coming-of-age tropes; characters that seemed so distinct, I could now only remember by their peculiarities, because, after all, that’s what Riggs’ shorthand is all about; even the found and assembled photographs suffered my doubt: What I then felt was so essential to the story became, possibly, too convenient to creating the world of the Peculiar Children, even the children themselves.
Okay. I bought this book on impulse. Of course. Aside from being very creeped out by that cover [almost always a good thing], I was intrigued by the experiment on form hinted by the sparse jacket copy, and by John Green’s praise—as some of you may have noticed, I live in a magical realm where most books are sold in the store shrink-wrapped, and in this particular instance, I was too lazy to tear it away. So, yeah, I essentially didn’t know what it was about, nor had I ever heard about this book.
The story is simple enough, though the first third of the book will have you following the tracks predicted by the wildly speculative judge-y voice in your head. The first chapter itself, about a grandfather who tells stories to his grandson, big fish stories, and not even that among the most horrific, the Holocaust—there are stories about, say, a little girl who couldn’t help but levitate that they had to wear leaden boots, else she’d float to the sky.
You’re lulled into thinking that this book will be a tug-at-your-heartstrings-then-step-on-them book about passing down stories, about a growing boy’s decision to refuse to believe them, about an old man’s silence.
But it’s not, although it tries to keep coming back to that, particularly the consequences of our narrator Jacob’s decision. But not as impactful as I would want, not as solid an elaboration. This book is not the book you think—you hope—it is in Chapter One. Neither is it the book you dread it’s going to be in the next handful of chapters—rich kid being all outsider-y and shiitake. And then Jacob sees his grandfather’s mangled corpse, and you wait for the adventure to begin, its grief-rage drive.
But, no. You wait some more, and then you realize you have to settle for a Jacob Portman turned into this placid sponge who just accepts everything—the fire that springs from a girl’s hand, someone’s brother dead and untouched on a bed, a boy you cannot see.
There is so much wonderment in this book, and I responded to that wonderment. But Jacob, I realize now, remained unfazed. The vision may exude its influences not very lightly, but I appreciated it, I liked it a lot—mostly because Riggs displayed that his strength as a writer lay in atmosphere. But the characters? The secondary characters, their personalities all but erased—not unlike prodigies known only by their field, not unlike comic book mutants known only by their mutations, not unlike strangers known only by whatever disease has afflicted them? Our lead, our narrator—upon whose shoulders rest the success of this book and those of the books that will follow, Jacob Portman who is responsible for the reader’s experience? Zip.
I wonder if it’s not just the placidity. [Nor his inability, I realized, to see, What is wrong in this picture?, hur.] Perhaps a factor is this book’s problem with tone—a problem I’ve discovered I have with certain books marketed for young adult readers: a reluctance to commit to tone. It’s like the author wants to talk of all the Big Fucking Deals of Life, then pulls back because of restrictions of the genre [or, if you prefer, the marketing label]. I dunno.
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I am the first to admit that I am fickle as hell. Life, too, throws way too many variables to influence opinions, to tint experiences, even to doubt the veracity of one’s emotions then.
I find this whole internal shebang re Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children to be notable, because it happened so freaking fast. I liked it, then, yes, but I knew I had reservations—but I persisted on liking it. And, usually, by the time I post, I admit that: That, yes, I know this has flaws, but I don’t care, I like it a lot.
I liked this book then, I did. And I still remember powerful scenes—a snippet of Jacob’s grandfather’s life, a boy having memorized in detail a day in the life of a town frozen in time, a decades-kept photograph let go because someone else needed to say goodbye.
Will I read the sequel? The rest of the books? I most probably will—there is simply too much promise, and I am truly intrigued by this world. Am I being contrary, yet again? Hah. Will I change my mind a week from now? Ugh. So. There. Something to brood about. Brood.