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Sunday, October 2, 2016

What I'm reading (#21)

This week I had the pleasure of reading a book that had been recommended to me more than once -- Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.

I have to admit that I love good young adult fantasy literature.  It probably stems from having grown up reading and rereading Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door and (the best of the three, in my opinion) A Swiftly Tilting Planet.  C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia were (as for many children) a big part of my childhood mythology, and I was lucky enough to stumble upon Lloyd Alexander's amazing (and sadly, little-known) Chronicles of Prydain -- based on the Welsh myth cycle The Mabinogion -- when I was about twelve, and was transported.

Since then, there's been (of course) Harry Potter, and the brilliant and eerie Coraline by Neil Gaiman.  But there have been a few duds, too; Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series left me saying "Meh," and the much-lauded The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper left so little impression on me that I can only remember a few scattered scenes, and virtually nothing of the plot.

So I'm picky.  Which I suppose is a good thing.  I went into Riggs's Miss Peregrine with high hopes, but half expecting them to be dashed.

I'm glad to say my pessimism was entirely unwarranted.  Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a charming, sometimes funny, often bone-chillingly creepy story that is as entertaining a read for an adult as it is for a young person.

The tale revolves around Jacob Portman, a misfit teenager with distant parents and no real friends.  He's really close to his grandfather, Abe Portman, who had been a refugee from Nazi-occupied Poland.  Abe tells his grandson wild tales of odd children he knew when he was young -- an invisible boy, a pair of children with super strength, a girl who could make fire with her hands, a girl who could levitate.  Each story is accompanied by photographs, and the young Jacob was captivated by the weird stories his grandfather told.

But as Jacob gets older, he comes to the conclusion that his grandfather is insane.  Most of the photographs seem, to his more mature eye, obvious fakes.  Grandpa Abe's tales begin to seem like the meanderings of a man whose traumatic childhood left him living in a fantasy-world past.

And Jacob tells him so.

Abe is disappointed, but seems to shrug it off.  Their relationship continues, but it too has become more distant, as if something Abe had been hoping for in his grandson had failed to materialize.

And then, one day, something awful happens that casts Abe's wild stories in an entirely new light.

To give any more details would cheat you of a wonderful, fantastical read that deserves no spoilers.  Riggs's point-of-view character, Jacob, is no sanitized, saintly boy, like the character of Peter the High King in Lewis's Narnia.  He's a real teenager, with a real teenager's moods and drives and vocabulary.  The story is gritty and (for all of its elements of fantasy) realistic.  You won't be able to put it down.  And as for me -- I'm already looking forward to reading the sequel, Hollow City, when it comes in with my next Amazon order.