Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.
Quirk Books 2011
Hardback 11.99 [pounds sterling]
The beauty of this book begins before you even begin to read the story as between the pages of text are scattered patterned sheets, old-printed photos and handwritten notes. The story crosses time periods, continents and generations. This was not my first choice (or even second) for review but I was pleasingly surprised by the complex plot and creative layers of the fantastical within it. It also reminded me of the physical pleasure of reading a book; this would not be the same experience in downloadable format.
We follow Jacob, a 16-year-old loner, who is incredibly close to his Polish grandfather who grew up in a Welsh children's home after fleeing the horrors of the Holocaust that wiped out his family. Jacob has grown up with stories of the weird and wonderful characters in this home, run by 'the old bird' Miss Peregrine, as well the nightmarish monsters that haunt Grandpa Portman's dreams. After a horrible tragedy, Jacob visits Cairnholm, the small island off the coast of Wales where the children's home was situated, in an attempt to escape the monsters that now plague his own nightmares. We then meet, through a Groundhog Day style time-loop, the freakishly superb inhabitants of the home who up until now had only been remembered through the photographs carried by Jacob's grandfather.
The old vintage photographs help to supplement the story and flesh out the characters, adding to the mystique of the story rather than revealing it prematurely. This is because they feature after descriptions of locations or characters, allowing the reader to imagine them in their own mind first. The historical aspects of this book are fascinating as part of it is told during the homeland bombings of World War II but it also deals with the effects of the Nazi-occupation of Germany and Poland. On a more negative note, the ending felt unfinished, as if leaving the story open for one or more sequels, which was a little disappointing..
Overall, the mix of modern and mystical in this story doesn't seem contrived or forced and the story flows unrushed, divulging the grandfather's secrets preciously, one by one, keeping you hooked. Although teenage fiction, this is quite a grown-up story, told in a beautiful lilting narrative that matches the easily imagined lush Welsh countryside. I will be recommending it to some of my pupils.