First off I want to say that if like me you’d seen the film first and had no idea what to expect from the book, then in order to enjoy it you need to know something important:
This book is based around some old photos. Creepy old photos of what were once named ‘freaks’ (think Victorian freak shows) and other photos which are made creepy by tricks of light. You know the sort I mean; I’m thinking American Horror Story. The author Ransom Riggs had collected these photographs from charity shops, antique shops and junk shops as well as people’s private collections (because yes, people do collect the oddest things!). The book was originally planned as a picture book but developed into a narrative based around the pictures instead.
Another thing, I’d probably recommend you see the film first. The book is better of course (it always is) but it does give you some foundation to base the pictures in your mind on. This is the (and I hesitate before using this word) problem with a book based around photos it causes a struggle to create the usual pictures in your mind as a reader. Particularly as some of the photos used for the same character were not the same person in the picture. Subtle differences but different nevertheless. Also if you’re expecting a creepy horror story that isn’t exactly what you get, so avoid disappointment now.
Jacob Portman is the son of a rich pharmacy heiress mother and a failed author-cum-birdwatcher father. He finds escapism in the stories his grandfather tells him about his evacuation as a persecuted Jew in the Second World War. Jacob’s grandfather Abe tells him tall tales of ‘peculiar’ children who he lived with in a huge house on a little Welsh island. He even has the photos to back it up; creepy twins, levitating girls, and boys infested by bees. Not to mention the terrifying monsters who hunted them. It’s only as he gets older that Jacob begins to suspect his grandfather was lying to cover up the horrors he experienced in the war.
But when Jacob’s grandfather dies in suspicious circumstances Jacob and his father take a trip to the island to find out more about Abe’s past in the hope it will settle Jacob’s case of ‘acute stress’ brought on by witnessing his grandfathers death.
It’s on the island that he meets Miss Peregrine and her ‘peculiars’. These children all have a ‘peculiar’ talent just like in his grandfathers photos and it’s here that Jacob’s ordinary life becomes extraordinary.
It’s a very engaging book, the photos are brilliant particularly if like me, you find those old creepy photos fascinating. Riggs writes beautifully and weaves together a story full of magic and mystery, any YA fantasy lover’s dream. In my book it shows a true talent to be able to put together a whole narrative based around a bunch of old photos and I can’t wait to get stuck into book 2.