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Review: ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children’ by Ransom Riggs

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Updated: August 3, 2011 10:11PM

As a child, Jacob loved hearing his grandfather’s stories about the orphanage off the coast of Wales in which he grew up and all the friends he had — children with unusual abilities, like the invisible boy, the girl who could create fire and the boy with bees in his stomach.

But kids grow up, and Jacob realized that his grandfather was telling tales, masking his experiences as a Jewish World War II refugee in the guise of fairy tales. The monsters the peculiar children feared were in reality Nazis; the children themselves Other in religion only. Or so Jacob believed, until his grandfather is killed under mysterious circumstances and Jacob swears he saw a tentacle-mouthed creature lurking in the nearby woods.

Everyone thinks he’s delusional from grief, but Jacob decides to follow his grandfather’s dying wish and go to the island to investigate. What follows in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Quirk, $17.99) is delightfully reminiscent of my favorite childhood books, ones in which the protagonist discovers a hidden passageway into a strange world where everyone has been expecting her.

It’s a thrilling moment for Jacob and the reader alike to find out that the supernatural really exists — in more Technicolor detail than previously suspected.

To reveal more of the plot would be cruel, but I will say that while the paranormal coming-of-age books of my youth ultimately returned their protagonists to the natural order of things, author Ransom Riggs doesn’t necessarily see things the same way, and one of the particularly well done parts of his novel is the struggle Jacob has between duty to his family and duty to his grandfather’s legacy.

And Riggs deftly moves between fantasy and reality, prose and photography — the children of the orphanage were inspired by actual vintage photographs that are sprinkled throughout the book — to create an enchanting and at times positively terrifying story. And while it has a decidedly young adult feel to it, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will assuredly please readers of all ages, particularly those who enjoy a healthy dose of gothic in their fiction.

Michelle Wiener / AP

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