Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review: "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" by Ransom Riggs

As a child, Jacob loved his grandfather's stories about the magical island off of Wales where he and other children waited out the devastation of World War II. When he grew up, he recognized them for the fairy tales they were--until the day he finds his grandfather dying in the woods behind his house, and lays eyes on the monster which killed him.

Jacob is haunted by nightmares of what he saw. The peculiar photographs his grandfather entrusted to him make the impossible old stories seem real. With the encouragement of his worried psychologist, Jacob and his father travel to Wales. His father hopes that Jacob will see how ordinary the island is and realize that his grandfather's stories were only imaginary. Jacob hopes to find proof that the peculiar children from the photographs really existed. He finds far more than he ever dreamed.


1 out of 5 stars
(grump + breakdown below the cut)


Something I've had to learn on my own journey as a writer is to be critical of the first idea that comes to mind. There's usually a reason why such-and-such seems like the next likely plot point, and it's because that's what everyone else has already done before.

Sadly,  Ransom Riggs--the author of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children--seems to have missed this lesson.

I genuinely intended to like these books. I went in with an open heart. I was prepared to love any number of possible stories which could have generated such a title.

I would have liked a story about a shiftless teenager, unhinged by his grandfather's sudden and violent death, trying to find truth while wrestling through his own nightmares and uncertainty about what is real. We almost got that. (For the first few chapters I thought I was in for a decent tale about hope in the impossible, in the face of trauma.) Or a story about the havoc time travel wreaks on affairs of the heart, when the person you love... only loves the parts of you that remind them of someone else, someone long dead to you but only a few months gone to them. We almost got that, too.

What does Miss Peregrins' Home for Peculiar Children offer? A dull and uninspired X-men ripoff, where the hero not only finds the object of his quest as soon as he starts looking for it, but also turns out to have unsuspected yet invaluable super powers of his own which makes him the unquestioned leader. It goes without saying that Jacob gets the girl. She gets over the love of her life--his time-traveling grandfather--awfully swiftly. (Convenient, that.)

I might have even forgiven the book its other generic flaws if Jacob had been in no way "peculiar" himself. A story focusing on a character without superpowers, who chooses to throw in his lot alongside those who outclass him (whether mystically or by mutation), would have been a little more interesting.

Maybe Jacob could have struggled with the decision to abandon his home, his family, and his entire time period. Or with not being the monster-wrangling, time-traveling grandfather that all of the peculiar children have been expecting would return someday--that might have been a fun question of identity.

Sadly, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children asks no questions. It takes no risks. Its ensemble cast are cardboard cutouts, its prose is bland, its heart never beats. I can say that it uses the English language adequately to convey its few ideas, and that is the extent of my praise. It wasn't even bad enough to laugh about, only bad enough to be dull.

This book has one claim to originality: the inclusion of the eerie "found" photographs which inspired the story. In the end, they add nothing to the story itself. A gimmick, nothing more.

To be fair, there came one twist at the end of the second book, Hollow City, which I legitimately did not see coming. On the other hand, I was so far beyond caring at that point that nothing  could induce me to pick up the third and hopefully final book.

That's rare for me; generally I'll finish a book or a series no matter how bad it gets. I made it to the end of Wither, after all.

There's just nothing in these books for me.

Complexity of Writing: 2/5
Quality of Writing: 2/5
Strength of Characterization: 1/5
Logic of Plot Development: 3/5
Evocation of Setting: 2/5
Effectiveness of Pacing: 3/5
Resolution of Conflict: 3/5
Emotional Engagement: 1/5
Mental Engagement: 1/5
Bechdel Test: fail
Diverse Cast: fail
Content Warning: horror monsters, disturbing illustrations, super boring

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