Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Title: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Author: Ransom Riggs
Genre: Young Adult; Coming-of-Age, Fantasy
My Rating: ★★★★


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 “The composition of the human species is infinitely more diverse than most humans suspect. The real taxonomy of Homo sapiens is a secret known only to a few, of whom you will now be one. At base, it is a simple dichotomy: there are coerlfolc the teeming mass of common people who make up humanity’s great bulk, and then there is the hidden branch—the crypto-sapiens, if you will—who are called syndrigast, or ‘peculiar spirit’…”

I have a strong hunch on what you’re thinking about right now, but no—it’s not X-Men: First Class’ Professor Charles Xavier blabbering about his thesis on mutant-kind. It’s a character in Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children speaking about, well, another “peculiar” race.

Basically the story is this: Jacob Portman has always been fascinated by his grandfather Abe’s stories. As a kid, he loved hearing them—tales about an enchanted home and kids with supernatural powers—backed by a stack of vintage photographs that the old man kept. But as he grows up, he dismisses them as bedtime fairytales and decides that the photographs are fake. When Abe dies in the hands of a creature strikingly similar to those that haunt Jacob’s dreams, the boy must embark on an adventure to clear the mist of mystery surrounding his grandfather’s last words, to shed light on Abe’s past…and perhaps, to pave the way for a new future for him, too.

Book Trailer: Written and Directed by Ransom Riggs

Pre-reading, the whole package of this book just screams “horror” to me: on the cover you could see a grainy black and white snapshot of a girl with a tiara, and a little squint at her Mary Janes would reveal she was actually levitating. Below her was the creepy combo of the chalked and gravestone-type of the title. Most blurbs talk about a mysterious island and an old man’s riddle-like words before shifting off the mortal coil; the book trailer achieved its aim on sending chills down my spine. But when I finally sat with the book, I knew I’ve tagged it the wrong genre in my head. It has its share of spooky moments, of course, but the bigger chunk of it was more of an adventure story. Fantasy would be a misnomer too, but that’s the closest I could label it. Coming-of-age would actually do, too.

I loved Riggs’ prose. It was simple but has the prowess of a magical paintbrush, inflating a world populated with interesting characters and amazing mythology. I think Jacob was fleshed out in a good-portrait-of-an-alienated-teen kind of way, and Riggs made sure he didn’t leave out the hormones, the PSTD-ish stuff, and the innate smart aleck at the core of almost every adolescent nowadays. Topics executed wonderfully to fuel Jacob’s gradual growth as a protagonist were hard decision-making and identity-searching. The other characters were…well, peculiarly fascinating, though I guess they need more developing. I liked the ‘relationship issues’ in Jacob’s dysfunctional family, especially the tension-filled one between his grandfather and father. They added one dimension to Jacob’s fullness as a character, explaining a lot about his overall demeanor.

The collection of eerie black and white photographs interspersed with the book enhanced the narration, and it added to the enjoyment factor of reading it. I got a bit creeped out upon finding out at the end that the shots were authentic, and with the exception of a few that underwent minimal post-processing, all of them were unaltered. Here are some of them:

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 If we were going to talk about originality, Miss Peregrine’s would not stand out. Theme-wise it has a good and familiar message: teens can confront monsters, whether they’re creatures lurking in the night or the ones gnawing at their hearts. Plot-wise, it was practically generic: there were a few twists and turns that I enjoyed, but at its core it was a regular bildungsroman with the “Chosen One” flavor. The young adult library was choked with that kind of formula ever since I began picking up a book in the genre. I think if it were not for the photographs, this book would perhaps not gather a lot of attention from the bookworms’ herd. Sans the awesome presentation, it would still be a decent read, but not as great as being juxtaposed with the photos.

Anyway, the combination of photos and narration was sterling, and that was enough to stop me from bellyaching some more. For a novel that was woven from a collection of snapshots from 10 different people, I think it was fascinatingly solid.

Halfway through the book I had decided that I would rate it based on what I would feel after I turned the last page, and guess what? I was actually mad.

It ended with a freaking cliffhanger.

Which meant there was going to be a sequel! My excitement at this epiphany was added to the ratio of my rating system for this book (60-40, based on photo-story). So all in all, I give this 3.9 stars. :p

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