On Goodreads, the comment that pops up most often with regard to this book is that it’s very similar (in concept, my caveat) to the X-Men. That’s fair, I suppose: it’s about a home designed for the education/protection of unusual people, after all. I think that’s largely where the similarity ends, however. What Mr. Riggs is trying to do with his novel is slightly more character-driven, if perhaps a bit sloppier in the final result.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is narrated by Jacob, a supremely “normal” young man who is thrown into turmoil after the somewhat mysterious death of his grandfather. Said grandfather, a Polish refugee and World War II veteran, used to tell young Jacob fantastical stories about the island home he was sent to as a teenager, and about the “monsters” he had to fight against. These stories are interpreted as metaphors for the horrors of the Nazi invasion and the war, but Jacob comes to learn of the truth behind them, as well as the truth behind his own seeming normalcy. Soon, he must make the decision to leave his mundane life behind, and continue his grandfather’s fight.
This book is very imaginatively and beautifully laid out. The backbone of the story is formed by real photographs of “freaks,” around whom the characters of Miss Peregrine’s charges are developed. Throw in the backdrop of a Welsh island and World War II, add some interesting ideas about time travel, stir in a pinch of pretty good monsters, and you’ve got a story. Despite all of that, the writing is where the novel fell down for me. Given that the narrator is a boy very much from the present day, the modern tone is appropriate, but somehow doesn’t entirely fit, and well, can I be honest? There is one instance of an improperly spelled idiom (learn your homonyms, people!), and some typos, which, I’m sorry, just makes me insane. Do people use editors anymore? Anyway, I know most people wouldn’t notice that stuff, but I do (professional hazard) and it drives me crazy. I mean, you never see that in older books. It’s not so much about those minor details as the fact that this is Mr. Riggs first novel, and I guess I feel like it shows a little bit. It’s a great, imaginative story, with good pacing. The characters are reasonably well-developed. The writing’s just a little clunky. Some of the stories’ pieces seemed really obvious to me but took the characters a long time to figure out, which is annoying. Taken singly, these flaws are forgivable, but then the ending is so incredibly abrupt, and not even really an ending (there’s a sequel in the works, of course) that one feels rather unsatisfied when finished. I think there must be a certain skill to finishing a book without finishing the story so that the reader doesn’t feel brought up short, and maybe Mr. Riggs just hasn’t learned it yet.
Clearly, I had a lot of nitpicky issues with this book, although I do think that the story itself is very interesting and engaging. I might even be interested enough to look into the sequel, if it doesn’t come out five years from now. High praise, indeed.