By Marty Mulrooney
Alternative Magazine Online reviewed the New York Times best-selling novel Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in 2011, describing it as ”one of the most unusual, inspired and captivating books of the 21st century” – it was also chosen as one of AMO’s best books of 2011. The original story by Ransom Riggs has now been adapted into a graphic novel by Cassandra Jean, with Riggs himself saying how her “beautiful images are so close to what I imagined while I was writing Miss Peregrine, I’m afraid she may have discovered a portal to the inside of my brain. I love this graphic novel!”
Following the plot of the book closely (at least, the broad strokes), Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children: The Graphic Novel centres around Jacob Portman, a 16-year-old boy who is desperate to uncover the truth about his grandfather’s death, along with his dying words. “Find the bird. In the loop. On the other side of the old man’s grave.”
After witnessing his grandfather being brutally slaughtered by a monster that nobody else believes exists, Jacob begins therapy and slowly starts to come to terms with the fact that his mind played a trick on him. His grandfather always spoke of monsters, and told stories of a special orphanage where the children were very peculiar indeed. He now realises that the photographs he once poured over as a child – of children with amazing abilities, supposedly his grandfather’s childhood friends – were simply cheap fakes.
It’s only when an unexpected birthday present unearths a secret letter from a woman who signs her name as Headmistress Alma LeFay Peregrine that Jacob begins to wonder whether his grandfather was actually telling the truth. With approval from his shrink, Jacob travels with his bird-watching father to a remote island off the coast of Wales – the island of Cairnholm where Abraham Portman grew up.
They arrive to find a sleepy fishing town with a sparse population. While his father watches the island’s birds and takes notes, Jacob travels to the deserted half of the island where his grandfather’s orphanage now lies in ruins, the result of a German air raid. It seems he has hit a dead-end, but when he spies several children watching him and chases them into a stone cave, he emerges on the other side to find himself stuck in a ‘loop’ where it is always the third of September 1940 and the orphanage is restored to its former glory.
The many children he encounters in the orphanage are just as his grandfather described them – Emma can create fire with her hands, Millard is invisible – and Miss Peregrine can transform herself into a bird. At first, this hidden world is one of sheer wonderment and amazement, but it soon becomes clear that the monster that killed Jacob’s grandfather is only one of many that are out to get the peculiar children. The loop is a sanctuary and if any of the children leave – as Abraham Portman did – they will eventually be hunted down and killed. Furthermore, now that 1940 is far in the past, leaving would eventually cause them to age rapidly and die.
It’s the same exciting story that enchanted readers back in 2011, and it translates beautifully to the graphic novel format. The only slight problem is that the new medium requires some plot condensing and the story seems to move at a much brisker pace. What was once a slow-burning novel with moments of fast action now moves along at a consistently steady clip. Also, the authentic, vintage found photographs that made the original novel so charming are now shown in a much smaller size and lose some of their impact as a result. However, these are admittedly small complaints – Cassandra Jean’s retelling is gorgeous to behold, offering detailed black-and-white imagery with splashes of glorious colour.
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children: The Graphic Novel offers a lovely companion to the source material. It’s still an enjoyable read in its own right, but those who have previously read the book version will find themselves experiencing the best of both worlds, just like Jacob. Headline has emulated the original novel by Quirk Books wonderfully and the presentation is second to none. With a feature film rumoured to be in development (with Tim Burton at the helm) and a sequel currently being penned by Riggs, there has never been a better time to revisit the loop on the other side of the old man’s grave.
9 OUT OF 10