Sunday, December 25, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Fans of Harry Potter and X-Men may take to this tale of a school designed specifically for children with magical powers—or “peculiars,” as they are called—even though this school is a far cry from the caliber of Hogwarts or the Xavier Institute. Written by Ransom Riggs and beautifully illustrated with old sideshow photos, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a delightfully eerie and engaging fantasy that will appeal to both teen and adult readers.

The protagonist is Jacob, a teenage outcast struggling to make sense of his grandfather’s mysterious death, and the outlandish stories he left behind; stories of his adventures in World War II, and of living in an orphanage for children with supernatural powers. When Jacob travels to a remote Welsh island to investigate these stories, he falls headlong into a fantastical world populated by shape-shifting demons, where he meets Miss Peregrine, the matriarch of a hidden land that houses a mansion designed to protect the children in her care from the outside world. Jacob inadvertently upsets the balance between Miss Peregrine’s world and ours, setting off a catastrophic chain of events that make him realize his own supernatural abilities.

The discovery of the orphanage introduces a colorful cast of peculiar characters. First we are introduced to Emma, a girl who can conjure fire, and Millard the invisible boy. There’s also Olive the levitating girl; Hugh, who has bees living in his stomach; Bronwyn, the girl with super strength; and Horace, who has prophetic dreams; to name a few. Miss Peregrine herself is a fun character in her own right: part formidable matron, part shape-shifting sorceress.

Jacob is an amusing narrator; his sarcasm and dry humor make the novel funny and compulsively readable. His disgruntlement with his wealthy, frivolous family is often a point of comic relief, and also lends some depth to his internal struggle of whether to remain with his peculiar friends or return to his lackluster existence in a small town in Florida.

Ransom Riggs has earned himself a devoted following with this novel that is sure to expand with the upcoming sequel. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is equal parts funny, spooky and splendidly bizarre, and an absorbing read from start to finish. Both parents and children will have a fun time with this one.

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