Appetizer: When Jacob is 15 years old, something happens to divide his life into "before" and "after." As a child, Jacob had grown up his grandfather's stories; tales of monsters and extraordinary people (and he had the old pictures to prove it!). As many kids would, Jacob grew older and began to see his grandfather's tales as exaggerations. But, on a fateful day, Jacob gets a call from his grandfather and learns that there may be some truth to what his grandfather said. This realization will lead Jacob to counseling, and eventually to a Welsh island and an abandoned orphanage where he searches for the truth in his grandfather's words and the truth behind the strange old photos of peculiar children doing extraordinary things.
What a great read! The old photos scattered throughout the novel were wonderful and would make this story a great model for writing in response to pictures. I loved the humor early in the story, the peculiarities of the children (some of them give the story a bit of an X-Men feel) and the descriptions of setting that Ransom Riggs used throughout.
|I think I'm going to use this one as an in-class writing prompt!|
The before and after structure reminded me heavily of John Green's Looking for Alaska. (Plus there was a mention of multiethnic Santas, characters rapping, etc.)
My one big critique would be of the mystery; if you want to call it that. There wasn't enough of one. I found it also easy to figure out who the villain was. Also, *spoiler for page 130-ish* I wished there had been a little more set-up of the time loop. It being introduced really threw me for a loop (haha).
Nonetheless, Riggs's writing is wonderful and I plan to recommend this book often. In fact, I'd say this book was probably one of my favorites of 2011. It's fitting that I ended the year with it
"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" (p. 8).
"More fantastic still, were [Grandpa Portman's] stories about life in the Welsh children's home. It was an enchanted place, he said, designed to keep kids safe from the monsters, on an island where the sun shined every day and nobody ever got sick or died. Everyone lived together in a big house that was protected by a wise old bird--or so the story went. As I got older, though, I began to have doubts" (p. 9).
"It wasn't until a few years later that my dad explained it to me: Grandpa had told him some of the same stories when he was a kid, and they weren't lies, exactly, but exaggerated versions of the truth--because the story of Grandpa Portman's childhood wasn't a fairy tale at all. It was a horror story" (p. 17).
"As you can imagine, convincing my parents to let me spend part of my summer on a tiny island off the coast of Wales was no easy task. They--particularly my mother--had many compelling reasons why this was a wretched idea, including the cost, the fact that I was supposed to spend the summer with Uncle Bobby learning how to run a drug empire, and that I had no one to accompany me, since neither of my parents had any interest in going and I certainly couldn't go alone. I had no effective rebuttals, and my reason for wanting to make the trip--I think I'm supposed to--wasn't something I could explain without sounding even crazier than they already feared I was." (p. 61)
"If Cairnholm's only phone connected to some den of iniquity called the "piss hole," how did that bode for the rest of the island? Would my first trip to Europe be spent evading drunken maniacs and watching birds evacuate their bowels on rocky beaches? Maybe so. But if it meant that I'd finally be able to put my grandfather's mystery to rest and get on with my unextraordinary life, anything I had to endure would be worth it." (p. 64)
"And that is how someone who is unusually susceptible to nightmares, night terrors, the Creeps, the Willies, and Seeing Things That Aren't Really There talks himself into making one last trip to the abandoned, almost-certainly-haunted house where a dozen or more children met their untimely end." (p. 99)
Tasty Rating: !!!!