Whitney’s Shelf: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs

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

First, Ransom Riggs is such a perfect author name that I can’t believe it’s real. And if it is, I’m definitely envious, much the way I’m jealous of a friend whose last name is Dragon. (Disappointingly, she’s a sweet lady, focused on raising her two kids and a dog, loving her husband, and worshiping Jesus. I mean, she’s a great person and a good friend, but if were named Dragon – BWAHAHAHAHAHA! sigh. I guess that’s why I’m not named Dragon.)

So, I decided to read Miss Peregrine first because I accidentally bought it and was stuck with it for a little while. Let me explain: We happened to be on vacation visiting my husband’s family (hence the inspiration for Whitney’s Shelf)  over Father’s Day. One of the gift suggestions for my father-in-law was an interesting, light read. Something he wouldn’t have to think to much about, but was still entertaining. “Oh, like a beach read?” I asked. “I think just to read,” said mother-in-law. Impossible. A well-written book that is frivolous? A carefully crafted throw-away narrative? I know I’m exposing my level of book snobbery here, but: what the what?!?

Reader, I panicked. In the middle of Southern California, which is basically just one giant strip mall weaving between beach, freeways, and desert, I determined that Target was the only possible place to buy a book. Faced with just these meagre options, I still managed to be overwhelmed. No thrillers– too dark. No romances– too much sex! No quasi-literary book club picks– too ridiculous (my father-in-law has a fine tuned sense of reality. He can’t watch Star Trek without realizing that somewhere, a bunch of  adults are playing dress-up space aliens.). Eventually I wound up in the YA section, which contains variations of paranormal romance Twilight knock-offs, magic non-Percy Jacksons and non-Harry Potters, and earnest bildungsromans. I grabbed Miss Peregrine and The Fault in Our Stars out of desperation. Miss Peregrine had the virtue of have “peculiar” right there in the title, so it must be unique at least, right? (I ended up giving him The Fault in Our Stars, which violates all of the guiding principles I had for choosing a book for my father-in-law, but it’s my favorite book ever right now, so I was willing to take a risk.)

Miss Peregrine is a book written around a collection of odd photographs. It’s also the story of a boy caught in a time loop who falls in love, sort of, and is seeking to memorialize his grandfather, sort of, and it’s sort of about a lot of other things, too. But let’s be real. It’s actually a story about the photographs. (For a more thorough plot summary, click on the title at the top of the post.)

For the most part, the narrative holds together. It’s a good story– but it could’ve been great if the photographs hadn’t gotten in the way. The narrative goes out of its way to include them, making it all feel very contrived. Look, authors get ideas from all kinds of places, and the idea of making a story from a photograph is a classic freewriting, writer’s block busting prompt. But that’s where you start, not where you finish. I just wish Riggs’ editor had been a little more ruthless in cutting, or his agent had pushed him to dig a little deeper, to make the story a little better. Maybe Riggs was going for a hybrid text/picture experience– but this wasn’t it. The difference between narrative and photos were just too jarring. They weren’t seamlessly integrated, like the best graphic novels (e.g. Habibi) or concrete or Imagist poetry. There were a lot of fantastic elements in this book: Entertainment Weekly said, “With its X-Men: First Class-meets-time-travel story line, David Lynchian imagery, and rich, eerie detail, its no wonder Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children has been snapped up by Twentieth Century Fox.” And that’s very true. But you know who’s the best at writing X-Men First Class, plus providing imagery full of rich, eerie detail? X-Men First Class. I am glad to hear that Peculiar Children has been optioned for a movie. That seems like the ideal medium for telling the kind of story Riggs wants to. A novel was not the best fit.

Whitney was kinder than I was. When I asked her for her thoughts, she admitted being disappointed, but still defended the book.

“I remember being enchanted the first time through reading the book – and then hating the ending.  I think I had anticipated something else happening due to the time traveling, so when it didn’t I was annoyed.

“The second time though, knowing a little more what to expect, I didn’t hate the ending as much but still felt like an opportunity was lost.  It was September 4th, 1940 after all – why didn’t they find Abe and join forces? Then his grandfather would have known what was going to happen all along but he had to keep living it so that all the children would be safe! Was it somehow a different September 4th? I’m never very good at following the rules of time travel.
“Either way, I think it is such a clever idea for a book and loved getting to see all those amazing old photos (even if some of them did seem forced).  Would I read a sequel? Yes I would.”
Ok, I would (will) read the sequel, but I’m just saying. Maybe some transitions? Maybe don’t bother to have dialogue describing the photographs if you’re going to include them in the book? I don’t know. Lots of people loved this book, lots of people with great taste who I otherwise admire. But I felt cheated by this book. It looked like it was going to be so much better than it was.
I thought I listed somewhere the next books we were going to read, but I can’t find it, so here is our new list for the next four books Whitney and I are going to read:

  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  • Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • You Shall Know Our Velocity! by Dave Eggers

Let me know what you think!

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One thought on “Whitney’s Shelf: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

  1. This seems like an interesting concept, but I can’t figure out how it can come together smoothly in any novel… I’ll have to look at this book to see what its like. I always love to read your reviews (and loved your reference to our Dragon friend).

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