Hmmm…what to say about this book? Well, first off, it is delivered in a clever and underused format. The use of vintage photos as a framework for a story, in this case a ghosty/monster/time travel story, seems refreshing and new. However, the pictures aren’t entirely creepy enough to carry the plot and there isn’t enough plot to keep this reader interested.
Or maybe the problem is too many plots. In fact, I felt like there were several very good books started here, but none of these kernel stories were carried through. Is this a story of a supernatural set of kids surviving in a far off land where they were abandoned for being different? That would make a good story, but it’s not really this story. Is it the story of an awkward, disillusioned teen who struggles to find himself after facing his grandfather’s suspicious homicide? Yes, but not exactly. Is it a time travel thriller in which the boy falls for his grandfather’s old lover with the added complication that she is still a child? Maybe it tried to be, but it really didn’t end up there either. Is it a monster mystery in which the kids must hide from creatures who want to harvest them for… well, I don’t know what? Yep, been there, tried that too.
Another place the novel falls short is in answering all the questions it raises:
What is the deal with those darn clowny twins?
Why do they “need” Jacob’s power and how is it so life-changing?
What is up with that cryptic message from dying Grandpa?
How do the old man in the bog, the murder of the museum curator, and the rapper kids really advance the plot? I mean, we get that there is something out there preying on peculiar kids and critters without that! After all, we do have a sheep-killing, shapeshifting, bird man to fill that plot hole.
With who and how did Grandpa Portman hook up and have the two kids?
Why do peculiar gifts skip generations?
Why was the wight in Jacob’s life for so long but he had never attacked him before?
Why do the peculiar children (with the exception of maybe Millard and Olive) NOT fit in regular society? I mean, if Emma hides her glowing hands and Bronwyn doesn’t pick up any big rocks, wouldn’t they be ok?
How did the hollowgast create their experiment and what about it gave them tentacle-mouths and an unwavering desire to eat their own kind?
How does the loop get reset everyday?
Why isn’t Jacob ever developed as a character? I mean, I don’t really care that he’s leaving home forever and for half the darn book I DIDN’T EVEN REMEMBER THAT THE NARRATOR HAD A NAME!
One thing the book does do quite well is create or adapt words for its pseudo-creepy lexicon. I couldn’t find any reference out in internetland about the hollowgast (or hollows, for short); they were the creepy, soulless oogie-boogies who rarely appear in the novel but seem far too easy to vanquish. Then there are the wights, who apparently are both a step up from hollows and oddly servile to them. These freaks have white eyes and can shapeshift and pass as human. There are also ymbrynes, or women who can take on the shapes of birds, create convenient recurring time loops, and protect communities of children so blandly freakish they can’t even make it in the circus. Just saying, but that seems as if it might be such a super-specific job description for Miss Peregrine and her cohorts that it loses any semblance of plausibility.
Anyway, this is the first book written by Ransom Riggs (because that’s not a pseudonym!) and it was put out by Quirk Publishing (Previous books from this publishing house that I enjoyed were Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, but after that, it just got ridiculous!). I think I’d enjoy reading more from him if he could tighten the writing a bit and reduce the number of subplots going on. A final improvement would be to find pictures that seemed to belong uniquely to his text. (About halfway through the book, the pictures seem to lose some of their focus and feel tacked-on and tangential to the story). The vintage photo idea is a great one, and I’m not sure why, but it somehow calls to mind the drawings in The Book Thief, which were incorporated into the novel supremely well. So, Riggs, hit up Markus Zusak before your next attempt, ok?
Wanted to like it, sorta did, but not enough. So… read it? Sure, but just know it won’t keep you up at night with horror OR anticipation.