The book focuses on Jacob, a teenage boy who grows up on his grandfather's stories about the strange orphanage in Wales where he spent his childhood with a group of "peculiar" children: a levitating girl, an invisible boy, twins with incredible strength. Even the orphanage itself seems magical, and Jacob's grandfather claims that it protected him and the children from "monsters." When Jacob starts to question his grandfather's stories, he realizes that they may actually be a metaphor for his grandfather's life during World War II - that his grandfather was sent to the orphanage to escape the Nazis (i.e. the monsters), which makes everything at the orphanage seem magical, including the children.
But when Jacob's grandfather mysteriously dies and leaves him with a cryptic message, he once again grows curious about the stories and returns to the mysterious orphanage in search of answers from any of the remaining children. But what Jacob finds is just that: children, and Jacob realizes that his grandfather's stories may not have been so fantastic after all. Soon, Jacob finds himself trapped between his own reality and the strange world of Miss Peregrine's orphanage, trying to protect himself and the peculiar children from the monsters that terrified his grandfather.
What I enjoyed most about this book was its unique blending of history and the supernatural. The orphanage, peculiar children, and monsters are not simply a metaphor for the Holocaust. Both history and this magical world are able to coexist in Riggs's novel, and Jacob and his compatriots have to contend with the reality of both: the war-torn reality of Wales during WW II and the forces that exist in the strange supernatural world that Jacob discovers. For instance, the monsters are not simply Nazi soldiers or evil creatures from the supernatural world - they are both, and Jacob and the peculiar children are not safe from either.
I was equally captivated by Riggs's use of photography. I was pretty impressed that Riggs spent a significant amount of time researching old photographs and assembling a unique collection of strange pictures for his book, and I think that he weaves the photographs into the story seamlessly. The book is predicated on a grandfather telling his grandson stories of a magical world filled with peculiar children, and the grandfather uses the pictures to help Jacob visualize his childhood. In that sense, the pictures play a critical part in the novel's world-building, and I was captivated by how Riggs created such elaborate and interesting characters based on a strange collection of old photographs.
I think my only real complaint with the book is that I just wanted more. Describing the book, it sounds incredibly fascinating and complex, but it's a bit underwhelming when you actually read it. As a narrator, I thought Jacob was underdeveloped (and a tad uninteresting), and I didn't always have a clear sense of who he is and what drives him. Similarly, I wanted to know more about the peculiar children and their lives at the orphanage. There was so much for Riggs to explore - it's a magical world after all, and he could have done pretty much anything - but when the book digs into the peculiar children's supernatural world, things seem a little too quiet and simple, and there's never quite as much there as you would like. With every turn of the page, I found myself wanting just a little bit more.
But leaving your readers wanting more isn't the worst thing an author can do - Riggs obviously had me invested enough to actually want more from the story, which I think is good. Needless to say, I was excited to find out that he's already writing a sequel (not only because I really do want more, but also because the first book ends with a new chapter unfolding, and I have to know what happens next). I'll definitely be picking that up when it comes out next year.
Despite its small disappointments, I'd still recommend checking out Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. It was an engaging book that kept me interested and reading, and I think Riggs is one to watch in terms of rising young authors. I'm curious to see what else he has in store for readers over the next few years.
Has anyone else read Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children? If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts! If not, let me know if I've convinced you to check it out, and as always, feel free to come back here and discuss your thoughts. I'll pour the tea.