Amy's Reviews > Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
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's review
Feb 25, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: book-club-pick, fantasy, ya

One of my favorite movie quotes of all time, from the film Ed Wood, is when Ed describes how he would love to make a film using only stock footage - "The story opens on these mysterious explosions. Nobody knows what's causing them, but it's upsetting all the buffalo."

I don't know Ransom Riggs : we're not friends, I've never met him, but still, I have a feeling that he's a big fan of that line as well. Not just because upset buffalo is the greatest non sequitur of all time, but because he too was inspired to create a story around preexisting images. And, like Ed Wood before him, his grandeur of his vision was not entirely met.

Rather than stock footage, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, is cobbled together loosely around old photos, collected over the years from yard sales, flea markets, or your better consignment shoppes; and, for a while at least, the device works. Riggs' imagined history for each of the photos - which are featured in the book, I should add - provide an excellent, and truly unique introduction to the story of Jacob, a somewhat bratty sixteen year-old who I'm not sure if he's supposed to be sympathetic or not, and his grandfather Abraham, a crazy old man who filled Jacob's childhood with wild tales of years spent living in Miss Peregrine's home, and other years spent fighting monsters; tales that are backed up with amazing photographs.

The strong start, unfortunately, does not last long. Abraham's tragic, and mysterious, death comes early on in the book, and is the catalyst for an adventure undertaken by Jacob, who, despite his lineage, is a character who is just not as interesting as his grandfather; instead of focusing on Jacob's (and, to a lesser extent, his father's) efforts to understand his grandfather's secret life, the book quickly becomes a supernatural tale, with a plot slightly more compelling than that of your average episode of Scooby Doo, but just as easily undone by some meddling kids.

Too, the photos, rather than an essential part of the plot, quickly become gimmicky; worse, at many points it seems as though the story exists mainly to serve the photos, rather than the other way around. As an example, Riggs introduces us to a child whose name I have forgotten (Fiona, perhaps?) whose peculiarity is related to the growing of plants, yet whose photo features a girl with a chicken. What? And why? If you were unable to find a sepia image of a young girl in a topiary garden, for one thing shame on you; but, for another, don't then just substitute a random picture with a chicken in it, unless the girl has some poultry-related peculiarity that will be revealed in later installments of this planned series.

As well, despite the creativity of using the photos, they're used in rather a stiff way throughout the book. By which I mean, each photo is described, in detail (chicken and all) at least a page or two before being shown. Yet, there is at least one instance where the photo could have had a far more powerful effect had it simply been shown without the explanatory text; that would be the "This is why" photo, which the reader could easily have experienced the way the characters did, instead of the watered-down moment we actually got.

Of course, the book was not entirely bad. I did like a couple of the children - the invisible boy being my favorite. Miss Peregrine herself I was not too impressed with, although I'm sure that Helena Bonham Carter will play her delightfully. Oh, right - did I mention Tim Burton is making this into a movie? As a film, it could go either way, but I have doubts that it will be nearly as memorable as Ed Wood was; peculiar children have nothing on upset buffalo.
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