Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Quirk, 2012).

I could be wrong, but color me a little skeptical about Ransom Riggs and the backstory behind his two adventures of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children. The notion here is that Riggs and his friends have collected many hundreds of old photographs, found some which are inexplicable and odd, and written a story around them. Some of the peculiar children in the old pictures have become the Peculiar Children - think the X-Men, only not as powerful, and stuck in a time loop in the 1940s - and they're the heroes in a long and difficult adventure.

I'm just a little skeptical, that's all. I fell for Mark Helfrich's Naked Pictures of My Ex-Girlfriends a dozen years ago and I'm just a little cynical when it comes to old photographs.

On the other hand, the contortions necessary to build a story around some of these oddball pictures almost - almost - sway me, because nobody would willingly create such difficulties and contortions for themselves, would they? But on the other hand, the story itself probably would have been very contorted even without any pictures. To its credit, the baffling questions sparked by the death of our hero's grandfather, and his old, secret life, keep the story sparkling with mysteries and puzzles. I enjoyed the first half of the book tremendously, but the explanations really did weigh everything down. This is a problem with many of today's YA novels, especially those with a little Harry Potter in their DNA. These books with very large casts and a bunch of distinct groups - Gryffindor, Erudite, District 12, Volturi - get really wrapped up in the rules of their world-building. This, with all of its structure about loops, ymbrynes, and hollowgasts, is quite amazingly tedious.

The book recovers from its rule-stumble, but never really takes off. Unsurprisingly, our human protagonist turns out to be Peculiar as well, and he meets the rest of the cast right before they get into a big battle with powerful enemies, having a massive crisis that could change history. It starts as something odd and new and unpredictable, but it doesn't end up telling a story all that radically different from anything else in its genre. It does what it does pretty well, it's just that what it does is something that many other authors have already done. Recommended with reservations.

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