Here in the last couple of years, Crystal Light released a new flavor series: their “Mocktails” line, which includes flavors like Mojito, Appletini, and Margarita. They’re all virgin and low-calorie, and according to their marketing copy, they’re just oh-so-very ideal for getting together with The Girls and having a delightful time; personally, I picked up a couple of ’em because I thought the flavors sounded just hilarious enough to pique my interest. As it turned out, I kinda liked the Mojito one. But at the end of the day, they were, y’know, Crystal Light. They were powder that you add to water to make your water less water-like. They were diet food, by which I mean a chemical slurry that’s supposed to make you feel like you’re indulging without actually having to commit to any indulgence at all. They were good in their own way, and enjoyable enough–I’m reasonably sure there are a still a few packets drifting around our pantry–but they were most emphatically not the sort of beverage I would actually serve at a party. I mean, c’mon.
…Keep that in mind for a minute; it’s going to make sense soon, I promise.
Back in 2011, which I believe is around the time that Crystal Light was saying “Look, Ma, no alcohol!”, Ransom Riggs released his novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
Part photo essay, part creepy otherworldly semi-thriller, and all YA novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home tells the story of a boy who is trying to sort out his grandfather’s past and solve the mystery of his grandpa’s murder. The book is laced throughout with photos, those old-timey ones you might find in unsorted heaps at estate sales or loose in boxes at secondhand shops (the dimly lit kind that also sell surplus chemistry equipment and antique steamer trunks, not the kind that ostensibly give their proceeds to a charity of dubious beneficence). And there are monsters in the world that the book inhabits, and people who eat souls, and a child who can conjure fireballs…you see where this is headed. It’s a spooky sort of book, and well suited to reading under the covers with a flashlight past your bedtime and then regretting it when you can’t sleep because monsters will come devour you the second you close your eyes.
But here’s where the utterly, utterly subjective experience of reading a book crashes into the room and parks itself like an obstinate elephant: I thought Miss Peregrine’s Home was good, sure, but good like a Crystal Light Mocktail (see, toldja those would be relevant). The first bit grabbed me by the ankle and dragged me in–if this were a movie, I’d be leaving fingernail marks along the walls for this scene–and since I was reading it in bed, it made for some truly strange dreams that first night. But as the story progressed, it got a little…non-alcoholic for me. A little artificially flavored. A little bit chemical.
What I ended up telling Moon Man when he asked how I’d liked it was that if Stephen King had written this book, I’d’ve been scarred for life. He could’ve taken the exact same story arc, the same characters, the same photographs, and written something that would’ve made me wet my pants and call my mother just to make her tell me everything was going to be ok. And I know it’s wildly unfair to judge a book based on how I think it would’ve been if someone else had written it, and I promise that’s not entirely what I’m doing: I recognize why people have been falling all over themselves about how good Miss Peregrine’s Home is, and why they’ve been building little thrones made of gold for Riggs to sit in, and why they snatched it right up to make it into a movie (by Tim Burton, apparently, which I think is just about ideal).
I mean, I devoured this book in roughly six sittings over two and a half days. It’s not like it was a crummy bog that I had to slog through.
But as I was reading it, my consistent feeling throughout was what this mocktail really needed was some booze, by gosh. I experienced the expected emotions at an academic level, but nothing really gut-punched me; I read passages and thought “Ooh, what a creepy plot turn you’ve created there, Mr Riggs!”, but nothing made me want to drag the dog with me from room to room so I could turn on every light in the house. I am not scarred for life by this book. I’m not even really scarred for the next ten minutes.
So here’s the takeaway, gang: This is a good book. I would recommend it to a friend. I would definitely recommend it to a young adult who has perhaps not read any Stephen King yet–you don’t miss the taste of the alcohol if you’ve never had a real mojito. I see what all the buzz is about. And I’ll probably see the movie when it comes out. But I’m not really clamoring for MOAR PEREGRINE PLEEZ, and if anything, I’m kinda secretly wishing that someone with more oomph–Stephen King, or Clive Barker, or someone like that–would give it a facelift and rerelease it for an older audience. ‘Cause, y’know, sometimes it’s fun to be pantswettingly scared.
TL;DR: Creepy but not terrifying, spooky but not really horror, Miss Peregrine’s Home is probably going to make an excellent Tim Burton movie and is a good starter novel for folks who haven’t read any real horror yet.
Rating: 8/10 Muddy Hoofprints for the objective experience–it’s good at what it’s doing. But 6/10 Muddy Hoofprints for the subjective experience, because it left me feeling like this party really could’ve used some booze.