Jacob Portman – a teenage boy who, as he was growing up, listened to fantastic stories told by his grandfather of children with unusual abilities. Then one day, his grandfather is murdered by a monster and Jacob sees the monster but doesn’t really understand. He is sent to see a psychologist because of his inability to deal with what he saw (and because his mom and dad think he didn’t see what he claimed). He focuses on his grandfather’s mysterious last words, and realizes that he needs to head to the Island where his grandfather was sent during WWII (he was a polish jew who was sent by his parents to Wales to escape the Nazis) to try to figure everything out.
Jacob’s Dad – an avid bird watcher he accompanies Jacob to the island, with the intent of writing a book about birds while on the island.
Abe – Jacob’s grandfather. He was also peculiar as he had the ability to see certain monsters.
Miss Peregrine – the woman who runs the home for the children. She is a ymbryne who creates temporal loos in which peculiar people can live indefinitely. Like all ymbrynes, she is a shapeshifter and can turn into a bird.
Emma Bloom – one of the children from the home. She has the ability to create fire. She was also Jacob’s grandfather’s sweetheart.
Milliard – the invisible boy
Hugh – boy with bees living in his stomach.
Olive – could levitate and had to be secured in some way so as to not float away.
Claire – her mouth was on the back of her head.
Bronwyn – the strong girl.
Fiona – can manipulate trees and plants.
Horace – has prophetic dreams.
Martin – the gentleman who runs the museum on the Island. He is killed by the wights.
Enoch – can bring things back to life using hearts of animals. And he creates homunculi from clay too.
Dr. Golan – a wight.
Aa hallowgast is one of the folks who tried to use the ymbrynes to gain immortality and lost his soul in the process. Wights lack pupils but can blend into the normal population. They are unlike hallows because they are able to are ruled by more than instinct. Wights can enter the loops. September 3, 1940.
Jacob’s grandfather told Jacob (and Jacob’s dad) while growing up all sorts of fantastic stories. Jacob eventually stops believing in them. Then, when Jacob is a teenager (in high school, working a part time job), Jacob’s grandfather is killed by a monster. No one believes it was a monster that Jacob saw. Jacob, who hears his grandfather’s last words (mysterious and telling Jacob to go to the island and find the bird and September 3, 1940) is distraught and everyone thinks he didn’t really see what he claims. His parents send him to a psychiatrist, Dr. Golan. Eventually, Jacob says he wants to visit the island where his grandfather grew up and Dr. Golan agrees. So, Jacob and his dad go. There, he finds the time loop (which is always Sept. 3, 1940) and he enters the loop and meets Miss Peregrine and the other children. He learns that he too is peculiar in that he can see the monsters, like his grandfather. But, the monsters (the hallows and the wights) are after the peculiars and the ymbrynes.
Turns out Dr. Golan is a bad guy and he and the others were trying to kidnap all the ymbrynes to retry a failed attempt at gaining immortality. Jacob kills Dr. Golan, Miss Peregrine is stuck in bird form and the loop never reset so the children are off to find help.
Other important things to remember for later: Miss Gannett is in Ireland in June 1770, Miss Nightjar (and Miss Thrush) in Swansea on April 3, 1901 (they take all the hard cases). Miss Avocet and Miss Bunting were in Derbyshire in 1867 (although it looks like Miss Avocet didn’t survive the encounter with Dr. Golan) and Miss Treecreeper somewhere. Miss Finch is also likely dead (here loop’s entryway was in a portion of the London Underground). Miss Wren. They were all ymbrynes. Only women are ymbrynes.
Horace dreamed of the place Dr. Golan wanted to take the ymbrynes. the picture of the place looks a little like a concentration camp’s borders. The loop is destroyed. Many of the ymbrynes were kidnapped so that the hollows can re-try the experiment that failed in Siberia (and turned folks into the monsters they were).
Filled with wonderful description imagine it to settings and adjectives galore, enough to make you feel like you could reach out and touch the setting and the characters, Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs conjured extraordinarily detailed images in my mind from start to finish. I will note, that despite my expectations of getting to read a very creepy story (from reviews and descriptions I read on goodreads and amazon), the title says it better – it’s peculiar.
From the start, the set up seemed to indicate that I was going to get some sort of scary experience. We had some sort of monster, more than one mystery and a murder. The photographs even encouraged the notion that I was going to be on the edge of my seat, startled often and gasping for fear. The nail biting suspense never really materialized however.
Instead of suspense, we got peculiarity. And it was a fair trade. The author built a world, quickly set out rules (even if they were a little bit difficult to follow at times) and dropped us into the world with out leaving me feeling like this book was nothing more than a set up for more to come. Instead, there was action and answers and all sorts of information thrown at me in such a way that it didn’t feel like it was the first book in a series. Instead it felt like I was watching a movie – you know how from the start of a film you get lots of senses engaged at one because you can see and hear the world, you don’t need to read pages of words to build it in your mind’s eye – that’s how this felt. I could see everything in front of me; I wasn’t stressed to build the world in my mind because the author did it in such a descriptive it yet subtle manner it was already done for me.
The author also managed to balance the use of a lot of adjectives in the perfect way. I never felt that they were gratuitous or drowning out the story. I only wonder if the photographs which were included help this on such a scale as to make reading the book without them impossible. But that doesn’t really matter since they are included!
Normally time travel books give me migraines. I say this constantly. I often struggle with the paradoxes and many authors’ failure to account for them. I often struggle just as much with stories that do address them as well. But here, the notion of time travel is a great plot device and it is handled in such a unique way so as to make things not confusing and not full of paradox pitfalls and potholes.
I believe one reason for this is the nature of the time loop as an element of the story. I haven’t encountered a time loop like this in my reading before (and I am sure they are out there, I just can’t recall reading a book with that as an integral plot point before). Another reason is likely because the author addresses the time issue head on relatively early on (after we discover about the loops) by having Jacob talk about the future and with the clever device of Milliard’s journal and research on the day the peculiar children live in. It’s also helpful that while we see another time it’s not your traditional time travel. It was like in 1940s version of Groundhog Day (if you don’t know what I am talking about there – imdb it – an know that in college I wrote an entire 25-page paper on that movie and the nature of time travel). And we all know that no matter how hard Bill Murray’s character, Phil, tried to screw things up when the day reset he was the only one who remembered anything. And no matter how many cars he crashed or what he did, everyone was back to normal and healthy in the morning. (Although I wonder if the author has seen that movie, because it would have been clever and appropriate to have Jacob make some sort of joke/reference to the movie, and that didn’t happen!)
If I had to nitpick a tiny bit, I would find a little bit of fault with the contradiction that the children really were all still children. Don’t get me wrong they behaved mostly like children and their bodies certainly had the outward appearance of children. But there were times it wasn’t really clear how old each one of them was – not in the sense of how old they would be if they left the loop but how old they were as far as Miss Peregrine sees them. In fact, Miss Peregrine at one point reminds Jacob that they are just children, but I don’t think it’s quite that simple. To me any character who lives the same day over and over and over again, even though their bodies may not age and they may still closely resemble children, they would eventually learn things that aren’t usually learned by children. And I do think we see some of this in some of the ways the children act. Additionally, I admit to sometimes losing track of how old Emma is supposed to be. She’s close enough to Jacob’s age to kiss him and have been romantic with his grandfather, but she acts much younger at times and so I had to remind myself that she was supposed to be a teenager, not a 10-year old.
But that is a tiny little criticism because this book really was a joy to read. Normally, this is where I would say that I’m jumping right into the next book (since it is already available) however I see that Sarah Gilman’s next book out and I must turn my attention to that first. I have been checking goodreads to see when the next return to sanctuary book would be published, and it is out!!! I can’t wait to crack open deep in Crimson (the second book) and wings of redemption (one of those half installments)!! Then I’ll turn my attention back to Miss Peregrine and her peculiar children.