Saturday, May 3, 2014

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things begin to happen. The first of these came as a terrible shock and, like anything that changes you forever, split my life into two halves: Before and After.

"Keep talking about monsters and they're gonna put you away. Then you really will be Special Ed."
"Don't call me that."
He flicked away his cigarette and spat a huge glistening wad over the railing.
"Were you just smoking and chewing tobacco at the same tie?"
"What are you, my mom?"
"Do I look like I blow truckers for food stamps?"

The first compelling aspect of this novel is the cover. I don't think anyone can walk by it and not be interested. The only thing that stopped me from actually picking up the novel for so long is the word 'children' and knowing that all my freshmen had read it in middle school - I thought it would be a little 'young' for me in spite of my hardcore love for young adult literature. And then I got to the part where the protagonist makes a very offensive yo' mamma joke and I was stoked to go on. The combination of the fantastic and beautiful with the cynical and real is one of the things I really enjoyed about this book - the contrast makes the fantastic more lovely and the cynical more hilarious. 

As mentioned in my Divergent review, "Young adult novels seem to come in two genres lately: the Normal Kid Who Discovers a Secret World That They're Suddenly a Part Of and the World Run By Suspicious Government That Teenage Hero Must Fight" - this book falls into the former category. 

Jacob, a teenage boy, grows up on his Granpa Portman's stories about his childhood. He was a kid in WWII and survives by being sent off to a boarding school. He tells Jacob fantastic stories about this place where little girls float and little boys have bees living in their bellies - and of course has photos to prove their existence. As Jacob grows older, he realizes that these stories are impossible, and cynically disbelieves them and becomes too 'cool' to listen to them (like all good young adult protagonists, he is an outcast and not cool at all). After his grandfather's death he becomes fixated on the idea of finding the school and the woman who saved Granpa Portman from the war and finangles his way to the island off of Wales where the school was. 

(Total side note: A recent Holocaust event in my city involved three Holocaust survivors and one woman whose parents were survivors. We have had so many novels and non-fiction written from the perspective of survivors, and I find it really interesting that we are now looking to the second and third generation to tell their stories - either fiction or non. This book is similar to Everything Is Illuminated in that a younger generation is trying to reach back to the older generation who has been lost to discover what their lives and experiences were like.)

I don't think it's a spoiler to say that he does find the home and the children certainly are peculiar, but there are more surprises than that happening here. It is a mystery story, a family drama, and of course there is a romantic interest. Battles must be fought and choices must be made and it belongs firmly in the fantasy and young adult genres. 

But the coolest part of the book is by far the photographs:

The book ends with an acknowledgements page that says: "All the pictures in this book are authentic, vintage found photographs, and with the exception of a few that have undergone minimal postprocessing, they are unaltered." 

My book also comes with an interview with the author and he describes his process by saying: "I started collecting vintage snapshots...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 I thought: If I can't know their real stories, I'll make them up."

Finding out his process made the book that much more interesting and of course I had to go back through and pour over all the photos to see how the original photographer created these haunting images...he doesn't photoshop them to make them more 'realistic' and in some it's obvious that they were double processed or simply cut and pasted, but that makes the whole book more charming.

I look forward to reading the sequel, but this one did not end with such a cliffhanger as to require buying it in hardcover (the Divergent ones, on the other hand, had me going to MULTIPLE Targets to find the sequels, and I happily paid hardcover prices for them). 

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