Review written by Jennifer Lewis.
Everyone knows that Grandpa Portman’s stories about the peculiar children are just that, stories. There’s no such thing as children with special powers—a levitating girl, a boy with bees living in his body, a girl who can conjure fire, or a boy who can animate toy soldiers. And there’s definitely no such thing as the monsters Grandpa Portman said forced him to flee the home for peculiar children. That definitely can’t be true. Right?
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children begins as something of a mystery and eventually turns into a tale full of horror. Jacob journeys to the island of Cairnholm in search of the author of a letter to his grandfather to try to solve the mystery of the peculiar children in his grandpa’s pictures. He does indeed find a home for peculiar children, but it is in a time loop reset every day by the headmistress, Miss Peregrine. While there, Jacob realizes that the peculiar children are being hunted, Miss Peregrine gets kidnapped, and the time loop is unable to be reset. These peculiar children, including Jacob, are no longer safe. Jacob must decide if he is going to continue the work of his grandfather and accept the responsibility to protect these children, or if he is going to leave them to fend for themselves.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Photographs / Drawings
One of the distinctive features of this book is the black and white photographs sprinkled throughout. The author borrowed some of these pictures from collectors of vintage found photographs and used some from his personal collection. These pictures, as well as some hand written notes, immerse the reader in the world of the peculiar children. Many of these pictures depict ordinary scenes, but some audiences might be disturbed by imagery such as a headless boy, a dog with a boy’s head, and a drawing of a man with tentacles coming out of his mouth.
The Scary and the Violent
When Jacob finds the house on the island in the present time, it is a very creepy place. Most of the creepiness comes from the fact that it seems like it was abandoned in an instant (clothes are still hanging over chairs in rooms, toys still out on the floor). At some point the children from the past find Jacob in the house, and that is a startling scene since both Jacob and the reader have no idea who is sneaking up on him while he searches the house. There are also huge holes in the walls and the floors, which later turn out to be from an air raid and bombing, which can be a scary situation to imagine.
Jacob runs through some pretty gruesome scenarios in his head as he replays what he thinks his grandpa’s life might have been like during World War II, including thoughts of his great-grandparents dying in an incinerator and children being burned up and blown apart.
Cairnholm has a museum featuring the “old man found in the bog” who is 2700 years old. The descriptions of this museum display describe a man who appears to have drowned, been disemboweled, and suffered blows to the head.
When exploring the house, Jacob finds jars full of formaldehyde and old organs in the basement. Enoch (one of the boys in the home) takes different organs (often mouse hearts) and puts them in toy soldiers in order to reanimate them. Jacob suspects that’s what these organs are for. Enoch often experiments with making his clay soldiers fight each other.
Enoch uses his animation power to ask the dead museum curator, Martin, how he died. Martin says he was murdered by the bog boy, but it was really a hollowghast that looked like the bog boy while eating Martin. The hollowghast is described as a hairless, naked being with black skin hanging off its body, huge teeth, and long protuberances extending from its mouth. When the hollowghast chases the children, Jacob shoves pruning sheers into its eyes and kills it.
While in town, Jacob hears that the police are looking for the person who had brutally murdered a local herd of sheep.
One of the boys in the home, Victor, died when the time loop was first created. As a result, his recently dead body is in the home at all times and never disposed of. This is a startling discovery for Jacob.
The peculiar children are being hunted by shadowbeasts—wights, hollows, and hollowghasts. The peculiarity shared by both Jacob and his grandfather is the ability to actually see these beasts, and thus hunt them. The monsters cannot be seen unless they are eating; when they can be seen, they have long protuberances extending from their mouths that they use to eat, see, and propel them up steep inclines. All around the world, the keepers of the time loops are being hunted and captured by these monsters as part of a sect’s quest to learn to dominate time. In addition, the peculiar children are being hunted since a hollowghast who eats enough peculiars will become a wight who can pass as a human. Jacob is horrified to realize that Dr. Golan, his school bus driver, his grandfather’s neighbor, the family yard maintainer, and an ornithologist visiting the island are all disguises worn by the same wight who has been following Jacob.
When Jacob finds his grandfather, he is dying in the woods with strange gashes across his chest. Martin, the museum owner, is found dead in the ocean; his trunk had been sliced open, emptied out, and filled with ice and half of his face hung in strips.
The wight, disguised as a visiting ornithologist, kidnaps Miss Peregrine, in bird form. When Jacob and a group of friends go to rescue her, one of them gets shot, and the wight gets shot and killed.
Because of the time manipulation that allows the children to live the same day over and over while the rest of the world continues as normal, the children have found that they can sneak into town and torment the villagers in a variety of ways and the villagers will forget when the time loop resets. This leads to some unsavory behavior since the children do not perceive it as behavior that truly has consequences.
After his grandfather’s traumatic death, Jacob struggles with nightmares and refuses to leave the house. His parents are unsure of how to help him, so he starts to see a psychologist, Dr. Golan. Jacob struggles with the fact that no one believes what he tells them about his grandfather’s death and the strange figure he saw in the woods.
Most of the dialogue throughout this book does not contain swearing or more adult phrases. However, there are a handful of swear words and more adult references used (shithole, damn, asshole, son of a bitch, bad ass, Jacob referring to his father’s “ornithology boner” when preparing for bird watching in Cairnholm).
While the ideas behind this story might appeal to fans of the supernatural, there are many disturbing descriptions and horrifying situations. As a reader, it was easy to forget that the children in these situations are much older than they look after all the time spent in the time loop, and instead to imagine young people encountering such intense violence and horror. It’s hard to put an age recommendation on something like this since the themes are likely to affect people differently across all ages.