The author of this book collected a set of peculiar vintage found photographs, some altered to produce apparent wonders, some merely odd. I assume he created the splendid pen name of Ransom Riggs. He wrote an evocative first chapter built around a few of the photos, about a Holocaust survivor who tells fantastical stories to his grandson, which only the boy believes.

And then, his invention exhausted, he wrote several more hundred pages of half-haphazard, slow-paced, off-key story to fill out the rest of the book, interspersed with more found photographs which sometimes seem to have dictated the plot, and sometimes seem to be there solely because the premise of the novel was “built around found photos,” but have no apparent relevance. Distractingly, the photos don’t even always match the text, and not in a deliberately unsettling or spooky manner. They’re just wrong, like using one photo of a child and one of a different and much older person, and claiming they’re both of the same teenage character.

The plot follows Jacob, the grandson, now sixteen, who witnesses his grandfather’s death at the hands of the monsters he always feared. Could the monsters of his grandfather’s stories be real? Jacob’s shallow, poorly characterized parents send him to a psychiatrist. But Jacob manages to convince his father that they should go to Wales, where his grandfather lived at a home for refugee children, which he described as a magical place, so that Jacob can prove to himself that his grandfather’s stories were fantasies. Jacob, of course, really wants to prove that they were real. Naturally, they are: he finds the house, suspended in time, and still full of magical kids.

This sounds right up my alley. And yet nearly everything was wrong with it, starting with the voice. Jacob’s narration usually sounds like it was written by a literary-minded adult, with discordant breaks into unconvincing teenage slang when Riggs remembers that he’s supposed to be sixteen. He does not have any characterization, and neither does anyone else in the story except for the mostly off-page grandfather – the book’s only truly believable and interesting character— and some caricatured Welsh people. (The slang phrase meaning "to tease someone; to pull someone's leg" is "taking the piss," not "taking a piss," right?)

The peculiar children have powers but no personalities. There is a bizarre romance between Jacob and one of the peculiar kids, who due to being trapped in time also had a romance with Jacob’s grandfather. EW.

The pace is slow, except when a lot of pell-mell action suddenly occurs at the end, leading to a great big “to be continued” non-ending.

But my biggest problem was with the lack of atmosphere, in a book which probably hit the bestseller lists based on its promise of a delicate, nostalgic spookiness. Except for the first chapter or two, there is very little of that. The overwhelming impression of the book is blandness. The package is beautiful, but when you open it, there’s nothing inside.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children


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