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369 pages, Paperback
First published June 7, 2011
If I never went home, what exactly would I be missing? I pictured my cold cavernous house, my friendless town full of bad memories, the utterly unremarkable life that had been mapped out for me.
“What are you, my mom?”
“Do I look like I blow truckers for food stamps?”
My grandfather had described it a hundred times, but in his stories the house was always a bright, happy place—big and rambling, yes, but full of light and laughter. What stood before me now was no refuge from monsters, but a monster itself, staring down from its perch on the hill with vacant hunger. Trees burst forth from broken windows and skins of scabrous vine gnawed at the walls like antibodies attacking a virus—as if nature itself had waged war against it—but the house seemed unkillable, resolutely upright despite the wrongness of its angles and the jagged teeth of sky visible through sections of collapsed roof.Jacob Porter (I leave out his middle name, which you can enjoy discovering on your own) had been enthralled by his grandfather Abe’s magical, if frightening, tales of his past, horrifying monsters in pursuit and a safe haven of a special school in Wales for those fortunate enough to escape. When being the brunt of derision at school was too much, Jacob cast aside his faith in his grandfather’s stories, and assumed the consensus view that Gramps had been speaking metaphorically, about having been chased out of Poland by the Nazis. But when Jacob is a teen, and his grandfather is brutally murdered, he has cause to reconsider.
It was just a casual hobby, nothing serious, but I noticed that among the photos I found, the strangest and most intriguing ones were always of children. I began to wonder who some of these strange-looking children had been—what their stories were—but the photos were old and anonymous and there was no way to know. So I thought: If I can’t know their real stories, I’ll make them up…Sometimes I’d find a new photo that just demanded to be included in the story, and I’d find a way to work it in; other times I’d look for a certain type of photo to fit a story idea.When he begins to dig into the meaning behind a letter his grandfather had left him, Jacob begins on the road to discovery. He must figure out what the words in grandfather’s letter mean. His quest leads him, accompanied by his amateur ornithologist father, to an island off the coast of Wales. I am not giving anything away by letting you know that on this island he finds a very special place and some very special people.
One of the themes of Miss Peregrine, and I think of any novel that involves the discovery of a secret world, is awakening—the protagonist’s awakening to an awesome and wonderful and, in some ways, terrible reality he scarcely could have imagined before, but that was right under his nose all along. At the end of Miss Peregrine, Jacob writes that his life was never ordinary, but he “had simply failed to notice how extraordinary it was.” Noticing the extraordinariness of the world is one of Emerson’s major themes. Again, from Nature: “If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown.Emerson (Ralph Waldo, not Keith) is referenced several times here. In fact Emerson was much more in the book in earlier versions, according to the afterward in the volume I read. Riggs says
Emerson often speaks of the possibility of fantastic things that exist just out of view, and many of his most famous quotes almost seem to refer directly to the peculiar children.He offers a mystery, and the clues that Jacob and the reader are challenged to interpret in order to figure out what is going on. And there is magic. The powers of the peculiar children are certainly fun, but not spectacular, overall. A bit of fire control, levitation, super strength, invisibility. A few stand out. One boy has a close relationship with the apian world. Another has a gift for animating the inanimate. A girl can make plants grow very, very fast. One girl has an unexpected way of eating. And, of course, Peregrine has a few nifty tricks up her wing.