Friday, November 11, 2011

Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

Now this is one stylish book. The pages are heavy and the font is beautiful. There’s some nice, brown decorative scrollwork on the page bottoms and ample photographs litter the pages. Plus the whole thing has this really delightful antique feel to it. It looks like the books my Nana’s bookshelf used to be filled with, like ‘What Katie Did’ and ‘The Secret Garden.’ Just lovely.

What a shame then that all of this thoughtful packaging houses a story that, while not terrible, is certainly nothing special. For all the book’s packaging screams ‘look, look! I’m old! And super creepy’ the story itself is standard young adult fare. It’s not even horror, which seems a crime given all the creepy photos throughout the book. It’s basically just a slightly more fantastical x-men.

But it started out so promisingly! Jacob grows up listening to his grandfather’s stories of monsters, which he eventually comes to dismiss as fairy tales. But then his grandfather is brutally killed by a creature that appears to one of the very monsters he used to talk about.

There’s this really wonderful tension throughout the book’s early chapters. And it’s not ‘will the monsters get Jacob?” It’s, ‘are the monsters real?’ Did Jacob catch a glimpse of a monster fleeing from his grandfather’s corpse, or is he just suffering from post traumatic stress? It’s genuinely unclear, and I thought the book was going in a really unique and dark direction.

But then all of this ambiguity is wiped away and in the space of a few pages the book goes from being something original and thought provoking to something we’ve seen many times before. I can’t talk too much about the latter part of the book on account of spoilers, but I will say there is nothing even vaguely creepy or scary about where the book ends up going. I don’t mean that it tries to be creepy and fails, I mean that it’s just not something the author even tries to do. And normally I wouldn’t even think to complain that a book isn’t creepy, except that the way this book is packaged promises an atmosphere of creepiness, so I went in expecting it. Who could look at those old photos and not expect to be creeped out?

Honestly, even without the false promise they offer, I could have done without those photos. It was obvious that they weren’t created specifically for the book, rather the author had dug them all up. Which is cool and all, but too often it felt like he was unnaturally twisting the plot just to fit the photos. There were just all of these long, complicated descriptions that were just there to justify the pictures inclusion in the book. It was like a game! This photo has a girl holding a chicken, how do we make that relate to the story? Plus, and this is probably more of a personal thing, but I found it jarring to form my own mental images and then be faced with photographs that looked completely different.

But despite all of these complaints the story itself is solid enough. The cliffhanger ending is more than a little annoying, but overall I enjoyed it. I just think, had the book been packaged more appropriately, I wouldn’t have been weighed down with pre-conceived notions and I would have been able to enjoy it a lot more. I am definitely all for beautiful books, but what’s the point if the story inside doesn’t match?

I bought this book

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