Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a box of chocolates. That’s barely even a metaphor: the design of this book would be perfectly at home on a pack of truffles. The classy red outside with gold lettering (underneath the dust jacket — which is not too shabby itself), the gorgeous monochromatic brown/black endpages and chapter transitions like those crinkly, shiny papers between the layers of sweet goodness. And bonus! — each layer in this box (or chapter in this book) comes with several of the most wondrous photographs you ever did see, like vaudevillian trading cards of juvenile oddities. Before you even begin to taste the story, I guarantee you will be won over by this thing of beauty.
I know. You don’t judge books by their covers and/or interior design elements. Well, as you’re probably getting a sense of, you are a better person than I am. I think it’s important to admit right up front that I absolutely chose this book based on appearances. Which is not to say that the rest of this review is going to be about how disappointed I was in the actual text. But it is to say that if I had been paying more attention to Amazon’s notes on themes and content, I would probably not be writing this review right now.
Because I don’t trust books about time travel. At least, not the kind of books about time travel that I feared this book was going to be when the timey-wimey stuff first started happening. Specifically, books where Protagonist X needs to learn a Lesson about The Past, so they shall be sent back in time for no apparent reason other than its narrative resonance in their life! At the outset, this book has all the trappings of being that kind of story: a somewhat clueless, exceedingly privileged young protagonist (16-year-old Jacob Portman, reluctant heir to a pharmaceutical fortune); cross-generational family drama intersecting with a defining moment in history (unanswered questions about Jacob’s recently-deceased grandfather, a holocaust survivor); and a wise mentor-type character who nudges said protagonist to investigate said moment (the shrink Jacob’s parents send him to when he insists that Grandpa Portman was killed by honest-to-god freaky fairy tale monsters). All of these elements are presented freshly, with grace and style, and absolutely had me hooked in spite of where I saw things heading — but still, round about the actual “oopsy daisy looks like I’m in 1940 now” moment, I was acutely aware that if I hadn’t committed to reviewing this book, I probably would have put it down and gone no further. Call it a blind spot in my suspension of disbelief; that stuff just does not process well for me.
But blessedly, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children turns out to be the other kind of time travel book. The kind where time travel is not just a way for some slacker to research the past without cracking a book, but rather essential to the substance of the events being described. Jacob isn’t just there to observe history for a little while before returning to the present, grateful and unscathed. He is there to participate in the future—albeit a future that takes place many years before his birth. And yes, there are Lessons. But not the trite ones I feared. This book is about the moments when your parents and their parents turn out to be real people, flawed and capable of doing things that make themselves and their loved ones miserable. It is also about how you turn out to be a real person, capable of understanding what makes those sad decisions seem necessary—but also capable of taking chances on your own equally perilous decisions. It is about how you choose the Right Thing out of several Not-Quite-Right possibilities, and how to be a decent person without wasting time on remorse. And it’s about hanging out with secretly ancient kids with superpowers and amusing dialects in a land where the sun shines every day.
So yeah. I’m glad I stuck this one out to the end, and I daresay you might like to do the same.
Laura Forsythe resides in Kingston, Ontario. She sings impromptu songs about household tasks and slouches about four inches off of her height most of the time, but doesn’t draw on her hands nearly as much as she used to, so they may make an adult of her yet.