Save the bird. Save the world.

miss p book cover with border

A review of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Published 2011, Quirk Books

When I had just started reading the book, I was interrogated, short of being freaked out, by an absolute stranger and fellow commuter who got seriously intrigued with the book cover. Understandably so.

She asked me if the book were scary, and I said it was and that the photographs were especially haunting. She asked me what made the children peculiar, and I said I didn’t know yet. Then she asked me what it was about, and I found I couldn’t say anything beyond the news that the author will be in Manila and what anyone could have read off the back cover.

Which isn’t much:

As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here—one of whom was his own grandfather—were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

(Come to think of it, I don’t think anyone can answer Crazy Stranger Lady’s questions accurately without getting past half of the book. We’ll come to this later.)

Jacob begins his story by telling us that he will always think of the events in his life split between Before and After. I think of this book in quite the same way: Pre-loop and post-loop.

Before the loop happens, I thought this book would be about Jacob discovering, a la The Spiderwick Chronicles, a secret world of monsters and mythical creatures and how he would fit into such a world, like his grandfather used to. The challenge would be facing off with the actual creature that killed his grandfather.

Those things still prove to be right post-loop. But the really big discovery after the loop is, well, the loop. I cannot, in good conscience, reveal what the loop is for the sake of those that haven’t read the book. Not really because I think the revelation would ruin much of a reader’s experience, but more as a sign of respect for the author’s intentions. The loop is such a giant and crucial element of the story. Its first occurrence in the text changed the pace of the storytelling, propelling it towards further revelations. We learn that without loops, there wouldn’t even be a novel.

So the fact that not even a hint of it appears on the blurb informs me that the author considered it a big secret. Like Jacob’s grandfather, he guarded it so closely that we will go through half the book before we have any idea that loops existed in this universe. In fact, the first loop appears during Chapter 6, conceptually placing this revelation precisely and, I felt, deliberately in the middle of this eleven-chapter novel.

Everything about the reveal for the loop felt so deliberate, I’m left to think that everything else is deliberate in equal terms, which begs the question “Why wasn’t this set up better in the pre-loop half?” which brings me to the similar lack of bread crumbs heading towards the other revelations post-loop: what pecularities the children actually have; why are the children with Miss Peregrine; what killed Jacob’s grandfather.

Thankfully, the writing and the unfolding of the narrative post-loop were more engaging than the revelations were abrupt. I seriously found this half of the book very difficult to put down. I read during my commute to work, and once past the loop, I kept reading at the risk of serious personal injury–while walking towards my building, up the stairs to my office, and did not stop until my computer finished booting up completely.

The second half is so action-packed that it not only upstages the first half by tons, it completely makes up for the slow start. We can loop that description around the whole book: the positives–how the photographs are weaved into the story, figuratively and literally providing added dimensions; the flowing prose and crystal-clear descriptions; the diverse specificity of the children’s peculiarities–far outweigh the negatives. Considering that the parts I found unpleasant also include an unnecessary love angle–a huge personal pet peeve–and a lead character I’m not particularly drawn to, you may imagine what level of great it took to make up for these flaws.

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Now, consider this: what if you won’t mind the love story? And what if you would actually find Jacob likable? Those two things are definite possibilities, so don’t put off reading this on my account. I’m not sure how vague this review got with my effort to keep it spoiler-free, but in case I haven’t been cryptic enough to be irresistibly mysterious, I leave you with the final words of Jacob’s grandfather: Find the bird. In the loop.

Right?

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About ergoe

Reader. Writer.

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