Welcome back to the First 250 Project!
I’m going to be doing today’s post a little differently today than the Analysis of Divergent’s First 250. Rather than point out all the elements that I think make the first 250 work, I’ll be pointing out my immediate reactions, why I continued reading and provide a short review of the book itself.
A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of curious photographs.
A horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.
A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.
Excerpt from Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (20011) by Ransom Riggs:
I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen. The first of these came as a terrible shock and, like anything that changes you forever, split my life into halves: Before and After. Like many of the extraordinary things to come, it involved my grandfather, Abraham Portman.
Growing up, Grandpa Portman was the most fascinating person I knew. He had lived in an orphanage, fought in wars, crossed oceans by steamship and deserts on horseback, performed in circuses, knew everything about guns and self‑defense and surviving in the wilderness, and spoke at least three languages that weren’t English. It all seemed unfathomably exotic to a kid who’d never left Florida, and I begged him to regale me with stories whenever I saw him. He always obliged, telling them like secrets that could be entrusted only to me.
When I was six I decided that my only chance of having a life half as exciting as Grandpa Portman’s was to become an explorer. He encouraged me by spending afternoons at my side hunched over maps of the world, plotting imaginary expeditions with trails of red pushpins and telling me about the fantastic places I would discover one day. At home I made my ambitions known by parading around with a cardboard tube held to my eye, shouting, “Land ho!” and “Prepare a landing party!” until my parents shooed me outside. I think they worried that my grand father would infect me with some incurable dreaminess from which I’d never recover–that these fantasies were somehow inoculating me against more practical ambitions–so one day my mother sat me down and explained that I couldn’t become an explorer because everything in the world had already been discovered. I’d been born in the wrong century, and I felt cheated.
I had the audiobook version of this. So, granted that it WAS narrated by Jesse Bernstein and his voice is incredible and so perfectly expressive, bringing forth that angsty whiny teen in the best possible way. However, our narrator for this story, Jacob, is also just spot on in text as well. Riggs writes the ungrateful teen boy to perfection.
In the first 250 words, Riggs expertly captures Jacob’s personality and this kid’s sardonic jaded view of the world. The way Jacob expressed his shattered hopes made me instantly like him. I knew right then and there that no matter what happened, I was going to follow through with the book, i.e. listen to all 10 hours of it, and root for this kid regardless of what was thrown at me, even if there was a vampire. (I’m not against vampires, I’m just saying I’d stick through it no matter what craziness went down.)
I’m notorious for liking these Jacob-y characters. I have a soft spot for the surly and the slightly jaded. You know. The chip-on-their-shoulder types. I catch a whiff of the semi-hopeful at heart but a total cynical d-bag on the out and I can’t help it. I melt. I have a type. Granted, a rather unlikeable type that probably and usually does get punched. But a type nonetheless. And Jacob falls in that category. I love him.
Beyond that, the first 250 mentioned that his life had quite possibly fallen apart: the “Before and After” in the first paragraph. This is a concept that just tickles me. Oh, sue me. I like to see people’s lives fall into disarray and run around with their hair on fire. Just throw in a magical artifact and you can call me a very happy penguin. I’m a predictable creature. We know this already.
For me, this first 250 was a success. Mostly because Jacob’s character practically leaped off the page, danced around shouting at the top of his lungs that he was a jerk and since I’m into that I was down. Pretty much the clue to getting me to read ANYTHING is punching me in the face with character and voice. Leave the rest for later, the world building and the imagery stuff for a few paragraphs down. Get me into the character’s headspace, let me see who I’m dealing with. If I like them, I’ll follow them to the ends of the earth, not matter how stupid of decisions they make later on.
As for the book itself. Jacob never disappointed. He was exactly what I wanted and expected. Aside from some annoying instalove–which, shame on you Jacob I held you to higher standards–I loved the book. I loved the parallel dimension time hopping. I loved ALL the side characters and their crazy quirky personalities. I felt awkward about Emma. I kinda sorta liked her but for reasons I wasn’t so sure about her. I also really enjoyed the lore and the social commentary. Overall, it was a really amazing book and I really didn’t expect the twist at the end, which I usually can and this one did catch me off guard. Brilliant!
OMG, and if you can, please please listen to the audiobook. Jesse Bernstein is so good at the voices, guys!! His British accent is…aaaarghh!! Do yourselves a favor and just let Jesse read to you. I did eventually get a copy of the book and wasn’t sure how the pictures added to the story. But I was already positively biased towards the audio version, so I just found the pictures might detract from the story rather than add to it. However, that’s just me. I just feel like this audio was one of those rare audios that are actually really really great being read to you.