I (Ben) heard about the new YA book Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children before I realized that I know the person who wrote it. Featuring a creepy levitating girl on the cover with more creepy, trompe l’oiel photographs throughout, Miss Peregrine is an odd, amusing and endearing book that I’ll try my best to describe in just a moment. Let me first tell you about Ransom Riggs.
Ransom — or Randy, as I know him, which is why I didn’t initially make the connection — attended Kenyon the same time I did. I had the pleasure of being in the sketch comedy group “1033” with him. Ransom was one of the stranger personalities in the group, which was saying something. It was also a factor in why I thought him one of the funniest. His humor was, well, peculiar; his timing was just a little bit off from everyone else. I think that was intentional on his part. The comparison is by no means exact, but I’ll use it because I think it approximates Ransom’s charm: I found him funny in the way I find Benicio Del Toro’s character Fenster from The Usual Suspects funny. He was clearly supposed to be in the movie, but it was like someone gave him the wrong script.
The one sketch of Ransom’s I remember in particular was a minimalist riff on Waiting For Godot where he and Scott Guldin (the Lorne Michaels, as it were, of “1033”) sat side by side facing the audience and engaged in an emotionless, rapid-fire dialogue of just about every pop culture reference you could possibly think to cram into five minutes. It worked on several levels — the verbal sparring alone was great fun, as was the way Ransom and Scott robotically one-upped each other.
John Green happened to be in this comedy group as well, which means that, as Scott pointed out to me earlier this summer, twenty percent of the members of “1033” have now gone on to write New York Times bestselling YA novels. Which makes the rest of us really feel like a bunch of washouts. Thanks, guys!
On that note, I will now attempt to objectively and dispassionately review Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children.
Jacob shares a close bond with his grandfather, who shows him strange photographs and tells him stories that Jacob naturally assumes to be macabre and entertaining fairy tales. After his grandfather dies under mysterious circumstances (it happens early in the book, but I won’t spoil it by going into details), Jacob and his father visit the Welsh island where his grandfather grew up. Jacob believes his grandfather, with his dying breaths, left him a clue as to what’s really on the island. Soon Jacob meets the very children in the photographs his grandfather showed him — the same children whom the islanders tell Jacob died many years ago.
It’s not clear where Riggs is leading us at first, and that’s part of the novel’s charm. There are so many bizarre developments — I’m loathe to give any away, so suffice it to say that at different points of the book I thought of comparisons to “The Twilight Zone,” Mystery Men, Groundhog Day, The Blair Witch Project and (wait for it!) “Lost” — that you’re swept up in the peculiarities long before Riggs reveals what’s really at stake. Underpinning the cinematic elements are the same qualities that animate any good YA fiction: a quest for identity; parental conflict; peer pressure and social belonging; and, of course, a good, old-fashioned (if slightly twisted) love story.
That Riggs can bridge the fantastic with the commonplace and do so in a way that feels completely fresh in the burgeoning field of “Strange YA Novels” bodes well for whatever he does next. (He’s already promised a sequel.) As for his off-kilter humor, I’ve always been a fan. I’m glad so many other people are now too.
Riggs is also a film enthusiast, and he directed this trailer for the book. It’ll give you a good taste of what you’re in for.
Riggs also directed the trailer (which was named Amazon’s “book trailer of the year”) for Quirk’s Sense And Sensibility And Sea Monsters.
You can follow Ransom’s blog (where he recently announced that Miss Peregrine will be made into a movie) here.