Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Spooky Little Girl Like You

Surprise! The idealistic young lawyer (IYL) in John Grisham’s The Litigators failed miserably. His clients all end up much worse for having met him and they all die in abject poverty. Uh-huh. You know they all wound up rich and happy because IYL touched their lives. Grisham is getting tired, though. This one was a paint by numbers of legal thrillers, so shallow that you barely notice when a major character dies.

Ramsom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children was not paint-by-numbers. The Goodreads summary -

A mysterious island.

An abandoned orphanage.

A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

I get on kicks sometimes where it seems like every book I pick up will have a common theme or motif, even if there’s no mention of it on the back flap. I went through a period where every book I read had a Young-Jewish-Boy-Coming-of-Age. It didn’t matter what the main book topic was, there was a YJBCoA in there, somewhere. I’m apparently in a time-travel loop right now. (And a cliff-hanger loop, but that’s not so much a motif as a maddening cheap shot by authors who haven’t figured out how to properly close a book while still leaving room to continue the adventure.)

Anyway, there’s time travel in Miss Peregrine’s. The story concept was truly original and fascinating, but the book wavered in places. The themes were decidedly adult, but Riggs didn’t treat them with the depth of an adult novel. I think when people complain about Young Adult novels, they’re often remarking on the shallowness of theme treatment. The book would have been much, much richer if more time had been spent examining Jacob’s torn loyalties and adolescent impulses from a slight remove or an adult perspective.

The vintage photographs make this book. I read Miss Peregrine’s on my phone and, for the first time, was glad that it was difficult to skip back and forth to the photos. I waited with anticipation for another illustrative photo to appear and then was forced to leave them and continue on with the story. If they had been on the page, I would have surely spent more time poring over the photographs and missed the narrative thread of the story. There was a fascinating note at the end of the book that none of the photos were created for the book, They actually existed and were loaned to the author by various collectors, and the characters had been written around the images.

I highly recommend the book. I think it’s possible that you, as the reader, may ponder some of the morality issues raised in the book more deeply than did the author, but that’s good practice for when we write our own bestsellers.


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