During one rainy day this past summer, I spent a very pleasant afternoon perusing and purchasing hardbacks (a luxury for me!) from Atlantic Books in Stone Harbor, NJ. One of them was MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN by Ransom Riggs. I had read a review in Entertainment Weekly about it weeks before and the whole concept had piqued my interest.
An author who combined creepy vintage photography with a novel? I was IN!
I bought about a dozen or so books that day and PECULIAR CHILDREN was the first one I read. Why? The pictures, of course. They drew me in as much as the story itself. Who can resist bizarre black and white photographs of the strange and macabre? Not even my kids could, who at 7 and 9, were sneaking peaks when I wasn’t reading it.
So what is PECULIAR CHILDREN about anyway?
To say that the book is about peculiar children would be a bit disingenuous, but there you have it in a nutshell. But the story is so much more. Since it recently came out and I’m not into providing spoilers, I’ll just say that the book is about a boy, Jacob, who suffers (and witnesses) a terrible family tragedy. This tragedy sparks a search for information and that search leads Jacob to some very strange and peculiar places. Places well worth visiting as a reader.
Jacob ends up making contact with a girl, Emma, who has a special relationship with fire. Whether this girl is real or imaginary, human or supernatural, dead or alive, etc. I leave to you to find out. Telling you about her, in and of itself, is no spoiler — her picture is on the title page, before the Prologue even begins.
I thoroughly enjoyed PECULIAR CHILDREN. It’s full of all kinds of story elements I adore:
- The strange and the creepy
- Boarding schools
- Carnival references
- Reality versus illusion
- Quirk (what else would one expect from Quirk Books out of Philadelphia, the folks who brought you PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES?)
Regarding the photographs, I thought it was brilliant how Riggs almost seamlessly wove them into his story. He says in a note at the end that all of the pictures are authentic and, with the exception of a few that had “minimal post-processing” were unaltered. Fascinating. The book would have been good without them but the visual elements certainly added to the experience. Equally impressive was how Riggs worked in other real life details (references to Jeffrey Dahmer, the 1908 Siberian explosion, and WWII’s holocaust).
PECULIAR CHILDREN is also a good work to study. There’s all kinds of things that can be learned from it but two things, in particular, that struck me were his use of motif (birds — see what I have to say about motifs under my “For Writers” page) and his exceptionally well written descriptive prose. Consider the following two sentences:
“What stood before me now was no refuge from monsters but a monster itself, staring down from its perch on the hill with vacant hunger. Trees burst forth from broken windows and skins of scabrous vine gnawed at the walls like antibodies attacking a virus — as if nature itself had waged war against it — but the house seemed unkillable, resolutely upright despite the wrongness of its angels and the jagged teeth of sky visible through sections of collapsed roof.”
I don’t know about you, but I just had to get inside that house and see what was there.
How about you? Have you read PECULIAR CHILDREN? How do you feel about combining story mediums? Are there any other books you’ve read that allow readers to interact with the story world through more than just words?