Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children feels like someone rolled up a young adult novel, turning it into a big boulder, and sent it rolling through X-Men and Toxic Crusaders before crashing into a bunch of crazy Nazis on their way to fight Indiana Jones. Did we mention the boulder is rolling backward through time? Because it is.
This book is quite a combination of genres. Although part of the book's draw are the allegedly authentic vintage photographs, the story is less about creepy real-world people and more about children with mutant powers straight out of a comic book—levitation, invisibility, eating with the back of your head.
And all these kids are on an adventure that seems like it might be heading down a road toward a big ol' Nazi battle in the middle of World War II. Plus, all the characters are around sixteen—or at least they look sixteen—even if they've been in the time loop for seventy years, putting this fantasy (think: magical and made-up) adventure squarely in the middle of young adult lit.
If you've done so much as look at the cover of this book, we don't need to explain the title. But if somehow this is the first page on the Internet you've ever stumbled across (welcome to the 21st century) and you've never read a book before (for shame), we'll explain it anyway.
Jacob Portman is on a quest to find the home where his grandfather grew up. This home for orphans was (is) run by someone named Miss Peregrine, and all the kids who stay there are peculiar. Put it all together, and you get Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. That's our kind of math.
But what does it mean to be peculiar? In this book, the peculiar children aren't just weirdoes or freaks, they have unexplained powers like they're X-Men. One girl can fly, someone can generate fire with her hands, another has superhuman strength, and so on. In this world, you want to be peculiar. As Emma says to Jacob when they find out he has a power, too: "I knew there was something peculiar about you. […] And I mean that as the highest compliment" (9.3). Phew.
Can you say cliffhanger? (It's not that hard to pronounce. Even the kid with bees in his mouth could say it.) At the end of this installment, Golan the wight is killed when Jacob gets up the courage to shoot the man in the neck. Whoa. Golan throws the cage containing Miss Peregrine and her mentor, Miss Avocet, into the ocean, but Emma and Jacob are able to recover Miss Peregrine, who somehow gets out of the cage, but a German U-Boat takes the other cage away.
The bad guys are kidnapping ymbrynes as part of a vaguely defined effort to achieve eternal life, and the peculiar children of Miss Peregrine's home (for peculiar children) decide they have to stop them. They really don't have a choice because Miss Peregrine is stuck in bird form (of a peregrine, of course), which causes their time loop to fail and the titular home for peculiar children to be wiped out by a bomb.
Boom. What an ending. The good thing is that you can find out what happens after the smoke clears by grabbing the second book, Hollow City, which was published in 2014.
Jacob might be born and raised in Florida, but he ships off for Cairnholm Island in search of the mysterious Miss Peregrine's home for children (he doesn't know they're peculiar yet) by Chapter 3. Cairnholm Island is practically a character on its own, with weather more erratic than any mood swing. Plus, with only one phone on the island and generators that shut down at 10:00PM, it feels like we're traveling back in time even before Jacob actually travels back in time.
Jacob is told by the village people that Miss Peregrine's was a home for refugees during the war. But when Jacob finds the house, he sees that it has been destroyed by a bomb. Not what he expected.
Of course, we eventually learn that the house has been sealed away in a time loop, repeating September 3, 1940, over and over again. There is a lot of foreshadowing about this, like when Jacob says, "the house seemed unkillable" (3.117), and he looks at objects that haven't been moved in years "as if time had stopped the night they died" (5.5). Wink wink, nudge nudge.
The date of the time loop is significant because it's set smack dab in World War II. Early in the book, parallels are drawn between Grandpa fleeing both monster-monsters (the ones with tentacle faces) and Nazi-monsters (the ones with swastika armbands). When Jacob stops believing his grandfather, he assumes that Grandpa was just making the Nazis into literal monsters: "They were monsters with human faces, in crisp uniforms, marching in lockstep" (Prologue.47). Much later, he realizes that it was both: "[Grandpa] faced a double genocide, of Jews by the Nazis and of peculiars by the hollowgast" (9.58). Double bummer.
Jacob can't imagine what that must be like, "to find yourself in the midst of an otherwise unremarkable afternoon, suddenly in the shadow of enemy death machines that could rain fire down upon you at a moment's notice" (5.180), but he does find out. In the time loop, bombers fly overhead like clockwork, and they drop bombs right before the time loop resets.
This should be horrific, but after you've seen it so many times—and know you'll be safe—a certain beauty emerges to the bombs bursting in air and the rockets' red glare. The peculiar children even call it "our beautiful display" (6.207), which would never happen if their time moved linearly instead of in a loop.
Sleep is not, death is not;
Who seem to die live,
House you were born in,
Friends of your spring-time,
Old man and young maid,
Day's toil and it's guerdon,
They are all vanishing,
Fleeing to fables,
Cannot be moored.
This is a passage from Emerson's Conduct of Life, and once you read Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, it feels like Riggs crafted the book with this snippet in mind. Let's go line by line here, shall we?
Sleep is not, death is not; who seem to die live.
This could refer to the fact that Grandpa's friends from the 1940s, who should all be dead by this point, are still alive. Also, Enoch has the power to bring dead people back to life temporarily, like the piemaker from Pushing Daisies.
House you were born in, Friends of your spring-time, old man and young maid.
Jacob must return not to the house he was born in, but to the house his grandpa, an old man, was born in. Jacob looks like his grandpa looked at that age, so it's almost like Grandpa is returning home in spirit. Grandpa's ex-girlfriend, Emma, is still there, but since she's in a time loop, she's not in her eighties—she's still a young maid.
Day's toil and it's guerdon, they are all vanishing.
What's a guerdon? A guerdon is a reward. In this book, we have day-to-day life's rewards not being that interesting anymore—Jacob is tired of his ordinary life, so he decides to stay in the world of the peculiars at the end of the book.
Fleeing to fables, cannot be moored.
Jacob thinks Grandpa's stories are tall tales, but in the end, he realizes they're real, and he leaves his world to stay in the peculiar world—"fleeing to fables." And as for "cannot be moored," well, they literally get in boats at the end of the book and sail away, unmoored. Plus, as the book ends, the loop's come undone, unmooring the lives of the peculiar children.
Aside from that, we occasionally run into the author-created terms for supernatural characters in the novel, like coerlfolc and syndrigast and ymbrynes. Don't worry, we have no idea how to pronounce these words, either, but it doesn't affect the enjoyment of this fast-paced novel.
According to Dad, peregrine falcons are "the fastest birds on earth. They're like shape-shifters, the way they streamline their bodies in the air" (4.148). He doesn't realize how true this is when he says it, of course. But as it turns out, Miss Peregrine is a shape-shifter, and she can shift into… wait for it… a peregrine falcon.
Not only is this cool, but it gives her the additional power of being able to control time. According to her, this is something all birds can do: "Most [birds] slip back and forth only occasionally, by accident. We who can manipulate time fields consciously—and not only for ourselves, but for others—are known as ymbrynes" (6.104). Fittingly, there's a bird motif throughout, with the names of all the ymbrynes: Miss Finch, Miss Avocet, Miss Bunting, Miss Nightjar, Miss Thrush, and Miss Crow. This is the kind of bird watching that we thought would only exist in Jacob's ornithologist father's wildest dreams.
Which brings us to another point about the birds: Insofar as Miss Peregrine is connected to Jacob coming into his own, birds represent a bit of tension in the book. While Jacob starts to soar, his dad is left floundering, too bummed out by another ornithologist's fancy binoculars to continue his own ornithological work. It's behavior that's for the birds.
The Cairnholm Man is a perfectly preserved, 2700-year-old body found in the bog of Cairnholm Island. (Original name, huh?) Although he is mentioned a couple times, he doesn't have a major impact on the plot. The museum curator explains Cairnholm Man's origins to Jacob in detail, and later, when the museum curator is killed, he says that the Cairnholm Man killed him. (He's able to talk because Enoch temporarily brings him back to life.)
What does that mean? Cairnholm Man doesn't seem to be a tentacle-sporting hollowgast, which is what actually kills the museum curator. So is Cairnholm Man some sort of original hollowgast? Or a hollowgast sacrifice? Do you think Jacob will ever meet Cairnholm Man as he travels back in time in the sequel? Or is he merely a symbol of a culture that time forgot? Either way, as an image, his perfectly preserved body is a reminder that on this island, the past is ever-present.
While in the time loop, Emma picks an apple and gives it to Jacob shortly before they share their first kiss. The next morning, in the present, Jacob holds it as it "crumbled […] like a clump of soil" (8.1). Yikes. That's what happens when you don't buy organic, we guess.
Jacob shakes it off, as if apples disintegrate over night all the time, but he later learns that this is what happens when things leave the time loop. And the same would happen to Emma if she left.
Apples are generally considered forbidden fruit, and that comparison could be applied (appled?) to this apple in a couple of different ways. If Emma = the apple, then she is forbidden fruit, as an eighty-year-old woman who's dated your grandfather probably should be. Or maybe it isn't the apple itself that's forbidden, but leaving the time loop which is super verboten. Whichever it is, as is oh so very often the case in art and literature, the apple is a warning sign.
This symbol is only slightly less transparent than Millard the invisible boy.
When diving deep into the shipwreck, where no one else will venture, Emma and Jacob find a glow-in-the-dark school of flashlight fish. Emma explains their symbolism for us, point blank: "They hide" (8.282), she says, and "They're peculiar" (8.285). Gee… that sounds an awful lot like some kids we know.
Plus, the journey to visit the fish mimics Jacob's journey to Miss Peregrine's home. He goes somewhere no one else dares to go (through the cairn) and ends up in a world full of fascinating creatures that not many people know exists.
The symbolism might not be complicated, but Emma's description is more than enough for Jacob to lead to more smooching. What can we say? Metaphors are romantic.