Old photos can be strange. Their edges are worn and their colors are faded. It’s the people in them, though, that can make pictures so strange. In Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, author Ransom Riggs takes strange photos from the past and builds a narrative that can transport the reader to a world where being peculiar isn’t as bad as it seems.
For Jacob Portman, things are as normal as can be. There’s working at the local drugstore, Smart Aid, school and his only friend Ricky who is more of a bodyguard than a friend. Then there’s crazy Grandpa Portman who used to tell fairy stories about the island where the peculiar children in the photos live and never grow old. When Grandpa Portman is killed by one of the creatures he told stories about, Jacob realizes there’s truth to the stories. This revelation sends Jacob on a trip across the Atlantic to Wales to find the children from the photos and save them from the creatures lurking in the dark.
Jacob’s adventure is told through old photographs . Riggs’ novel has antique photos from the private collections of 10 different collectors printed directly on the page for the reader to examine for themselves. Instead of leaving the reader with a sense of a forced narration, the pictures are expertly woven into the text. The photos in the novel also eliminate the reader’s responsibility of wondering what a character looks like.
The pictures, printed directly on the page, are bizarre. Whether it’s the floating little girl on the front cover, the masked children dressed in white, or a child with glowing eyes cradling a glowing light, each picture evokes it’s own story that Riggs deftly puts into the narrative. The book states that the pictures have not been altered from the original state they were found in except for some processing. That makes the creepy photos even stranger.
Riggs’ narrative switches back and forth between the past and present day as Jacob moves between times. It manages to balance the two without getting confusing. Each of his forays into the world of the peculiar children is clearly marked.
The children themselves are like a parade of an old time circus. There’s Emma, a headstrong girl with a fiery temperament in more ways than one; Millard the invisible boy; and the time manipulating, shape-shifting Miss Peregrine. Though there is a distinct voice to Riggs’ writing, each individual character has a distinct personality that invites the reader deeper into their peculiar world. The reader finds each character unique and well defined.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children explores how narrative is constructed. It’s a fairly familiar tale, the heroes fighting against the monsters of the world, but it is the pictures and excerpts of handwritten letters that add a viability other stories may not have. Pictures invite the reader to touch the lines of the character’s faces as they stare from the page. Letters, printed in the middle of the chapter, suggest that somehow the characters once held a pen and really wrote.
Riggs gives the reader a chance to wonder if his debut novel is more truth than fiction.
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