Tuesday, May 7, 2013

We're Peculiar. Aren't you?

~Miss Peregrine's Home
for Peculiar Children~

Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children
Book 1

By Ransom Riggs
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. 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 were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography,
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

You remember in school when you were given a picture and told to write a story about it? Or maybe you've had a writing exercise where you have to use a picture and a phrase within your short story. Well, regardless of whether or not you've done it yourself, I think we can all agree Ransom Riggs has gone above and beyond the minimum requirements.

I'll admit, the photographs did creep me out when I first received the book. The majority of them are of children in carnival clothes, all with blank or staring faces, almost like they're daring you to judge them. It gave me a horror-esque vibe when I first saw it, which I'm sorry to say put me off reading it for quite some time. But regardless of whether this book was inspired by the many Ripley's Believe It Or Not-esque photographs or whether they were sought out after crafting the peculiar tale, I'm glad they were included. It gives the entire work a uniqueness that not only enhances the reading experience, but is sure to remain in the minds of readers for some time after completion.

The story focuses on Jacob, a teenager who has grown up hearing strange stories from his grandfather. Stories of children who have fantastical abilities, a kind old bird who watches after them, and horrible monsters who would like nothing better than to gobble them up. Much like believing in Santa Claus, however, he eventually grows out of the fantasies his grandfather tells. That is until his grandfather dies at the claws of one of the monsters he knows can't be real. Now it's up to Jacob to journey to the orphanage from his grandfather's past in order to uncover the truth.

While the age of our protagonist and the type of journey he takes is very similar to the typical YA fiction these days, I found the tone and style of this book fitting for a much broader audience. The writing is very matter-of-fact and reflectional rather than conversational or stream-of-consciousness. It's almost like reading a journal, or a research journal rather than having a narrator who is speaking directly to the reader.

As such, compared to most modern-day YA adventure fiction, I felt a little distanced from the narrator, Jacob. Sure, I could still tell his personality, and most of his emotions at certain points, but it did feel very much like he'd had some time between the events happening in the book to when he is telling us. It's not a bad thing, just different from what I imagine most YA readers would be expecting.

The supporting cast was equally distant, in terms of the writing, though I still got some instances where personalities shone through. Four of the 'peculiars' in particular had especially great dialogue that made me fall in love. And does every invisible man nowadays require a snarky personality? I'm not complaining, mind you, but I had to chuckle at the stereotype that seems to be forming. The rest of the children had enough description to let me differentiate them by name, but not quite enough to make me all that interested. And Miss Peregrine was...a bit more underwhelming than I would have liked, serving as a typical knowledgeable adult who won't reveal anything until 'the right time'. I don't know, I never got a clear enough read on her, so I'm still not 100% sure of her yet...

Which I suppose worked well with the whole mysterious feel the book had going for it. If the creepy pictures weren't enough to make you uneasy, the majority of the book centers on Jacob's quest to discover what is real and what isn't. It's a bit of a mystery, a bit supernatural-fantasy, with some action and adventure sprinkled in now and again. Ultimately, I was never absolutely sure what to think of anyone or anything, which made the entire experience the right kind of unsettling.

Which made the twist towards the end of the book all that more jarring. I really don't want to go too much into it here, since saying much at all would only diminish its impact for those who haven't read it yet, but suffice it to say that I had to applaud the jaw-dropping realization that Jacob has to face a good 3/4 through the story. This book truly drives home the fact that our world is full of magic if only we know where to look, though not all of that magic is good.

And speaking of things that may or many not be good, I've got to talk about a couple problems I had with the book. First off, the romance. Yes, it's YA and 9 out of 10 books have to have some boy-meets-girl (or visa versa) love story, but the style and pacing of this book didn't allow for much growth between the two. Jacob seems pleasantly surprised at best that the girl has feelings for him, and yet we're to believe that she factors majorly into his decisions? I suppose it's a major draw for those who aren't interested in angsty YA romances, but then keep it as a mutual crush, don't try to pin life-altering decisions on it. Hopefully this will be fleshed out further in the sequel(s).

Another thing I hope gets a lot of fleshing out is the time-travel magic. Granted, time travel is going to be confusing and paradoxical no matter what, but I would have liked a little more explaining at times.
Yeah, I understand why things were kept vague/mysterious, but I'm really hoping that we get more solid answers as the series progresses.

Still in spite of, and in some ways because of the time travel elements, there is a timeless quality about this book which is partly why I think it appeals to both younger and older readers. The journalistic narrative style, the historical references, and the period pictures and dialogue all combine to make the story seem like it could take place any time, with any person. With so many books attempting to appeal to the now, trying to get the clothes, the slang, and the pop-culture right, it was great to read something that didn't pay attention to any of that. And in doing so, not only did Riggs create something unique from much of today's YA, but something I believe will continue to stand out in years to come.

Overall I found Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children to be a surprisingly pleasant journey into the unknown realms of our own world. Fans of fringe science, creepy photographs, and paranormal mysteries will no doubt enjoy this book immensely, but I'd also recommend it to those who like YA fantasy or adventure, since this book doesn't necessarily look it on the cover. Between the creepy photos and some disturbing/violent scenes toward the end, I'd recommend this for middle grade and above, though you might want to stick to daylight reading depending on your disposition. If you're looking for a book that's a little unique, or dare I say peculiar, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is an edge-of-your-seat story that will have you questioning what you know to be real, what is possible, and what might be lurking just out of view.
Approximate Reading Time: 5 Hours

Audiobook Review
Read by Jesse Bernstein
Length: 9.7 Hours
Listened at 2x Speed

Oftentimes when I'm reading along with the audiobook, I notice inconsistencies between the audio and the book and wonder if they are mistakes or conscious changes. This time the differences were solely due to needing to include extra descriptions of the photographs displayed in the book. Now, the audiobook does come with a downloadable file that contains all the pictures for reference, so you might want to have a computer ready as you're listening. However, the audio does describe all the photos pretty accurately, as well as read any inserted letters or notes, so I think you'd be fine with the audio alone.

The narrator did a fine job with enunciation and clarity, something I greatly appreciated with foreign vocabulary (such as ymbryne). Accents and genders were handled well also, however I was disappointed with the lack of differentiation. While he did do his best to provide unique voices for the fairly large cast, I only managed to single out the main cast. Any background characters, and many of the children blended together. Not a deal-breaker, but if they ever decide to put a little more money into the audiobooks, I'd highly suggest doing a Full Cast Audio. The payoff for the children alone would be well worth it.

Overall, not a bad interpretation, just a tad lackluster. It's a bit understandable, considering the journalistic tone/style of writing of the story in general. And I would have been fine had he been solely the narration and voice of Jacob. But in handling the full cast, it was just a tad under par.

Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by Eric Smith at Quirk Books in exchange for a fair and honest review.