Saturday, September 1, 2012

Am I Missing Something?

I'm still fascinated by the Rubik's Cube even though it's been around now for more than 30 years.  It's such a complete and unique puzzle.  And it's satisfying to the very end.

But what if you didn't realize a piece was missing until the very end?

Wouldn't you feel just a little cheated?

Well, I had similar feelings after finishing the book, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs.  I don't normally write book reviews, but this is such a unique and interesting book that I feel compelled to share my thoughts.

The story is told by 16 year old, Jacob Portman, but is also told through a series of strange, vintage photographs interspersed throughout the book.  On their own, the pictures are quite interesting and fun to flip through.  The cover art picture, featuring a levitating girl, and the book's title were enough to hook me.  Overall, it's an intriguing book and I recommend it.

I read the Kindle version, so I probably did not get the full experience had I read the print version, but for me, the screen display of the pictures was sufficient.  If you're really into the visual experience, then I suggest buying or loaning the print book.

The narrative story can stand on its own without the benefit of the photographs.  But the pictures really do enhance the overall experience of the story.  It's a fun and quirky book.


The story revolves around the murder of Jacob's grandfather and the adventure Jacob embarks on to learn the truth about his grandfather's strange childhood.  But the story is really more fantasy than murder mystery.  It may be dark at times, but it's also not scary, so your tweens won't have nightmares reading it.

Jacob is just like any teen and doesn't fit in anywhere.  Nobody quite understands him except for his quirky grandfather -- who just may be losing his mind.  They have a special bond and his grandfather always tells Jacob fanciful tales about the children he lived with at an orphanage in England before World War II.

Jacob is older now and is no longer convinced by the poorly altered old photographs that "prove" that these children had supernatural talents.  Jacob assumes the children were special because, like his grandfather, they were Jewish refugees of the war.  Thus, Jacob is saddened by his grandfather's dementia and increased paranoia of the "monsters" from his past.

It is not until Jacob's grandfather is brutally killed by a strange looking animal that Jacob begins to wonder if those fanciful stories may somehow be true.  Jacob is called to adventure by his grandfather's cryptic dying words and seeks out the old orphanage.

His family assumes Jacob is losing his mind out of guilt for not being able to save his grandfather's life.  With the encouragement of his psychiatrist, Jacob visits Wales to find answers.


I really enjoyed the prose of the book and thought it flowed well.  There is a passage where all these years later, Jacob walks into his grandfather's dilapidated orphanage expecting some ancient crime scene, "...but all I found were rooms that had become more outside than inside."  There is a nice visual style to the writing and the main story elements flowed naturally.  Although the story line weaves its way through unusual hoops, it's easy to suspend disbelief and just go with the story.

Of course the book is peppered with the strange photographs, too.  I appreciate the challenge it must have been for the author to brilliantly spin a truly unique story around the dozens of photographs.  This was like a writing prompt on steroids.  Just take an album of weird and random photographs and make a story out of it.  I love this about the book.  I love even more that it's a good story and not just that he incorporated all of the photographs.

The story was well written for a debut novel and had great promise.  I found myself guessing about what might happen in the next chapter and then the next.  However, the piece that I was left missing was the ending.  I was disappointed in the ending because there was no satisfying resolution.

I'll admit the question of Jacob's grandfather's death was solved -- so technically that's a resolution -- but that's not enough given all of the build up of the story's main adventure.  Too many unresolved and unanswered questions remain and then the story simply fades to black.  It's rumored that a sequel is in the works, but not everybody wants to go to the next book to see how things play out.  I certainly don't.

Just like the Rubik's Cube missing a corner piece, I felt the last pages were missing from this book.  I wanted more -- not from a sequel -- but from this book.  On the one hand, I usually feel if you don't have a sufficient ending, then you don't really have a complete story.  However, this book is so fascinating, unique, and interesting in its premise and how it's executed, that I still recommend reading it.

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