A Map of Days (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children)

Image of A Map of Days (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children)
Release Date: 
October 2, 2018
Dutton Books for Young Readers
Reviewed by: 

“A Map of Days reveals Ransom Riggs at the peak of his powers, leaving loyal fans ravenous for more.”

Library of Souls, the third volume in Ransom Riggs’ widely acclaimed and wildly popular young adult fiction series on the adventures of Miss Peregrine’s peculiar children, brings the peculiars’ mighty struggle against the wights and hollowgast conspiring to threaten peculiardom to a thrilling and satisfying conclusion.

The ragtag band of peculiar children introduced in the first novel—each with their own strange and unsettling ability, finally effectively harnessed in the Battle for Devil’s Acre—complete their mission, saving Miss Peregrine and most of her imperiled shape-shifting ymbryne ilk. In doing so, they restore a measure of peace to their embattled world. Unlikely though it might have seemed at the outset of the story, several of the children, including the series’ misfit teen protagonist Jacob Portman, emerge as heroes.

The new installment, A Map of Days, kicks off right where Library of Souls concludes, with the newly minted heroes adjusting to life after the battle. Jacob, worst of all, finds himself back in non-peculiar Florida, committed to a mental institution by his own disbelieving parents, a fate from which only Miss Peregrine and his peculiar friends can save him.

It doesn’t take long for Riggs to spring Jacob and launch the peculiar children on a new mission as exhilarating as any in the series, and more gracefully written than ever before. But first he takes pains to remind readers that heroism in the peculiar world does nothing to resolve the incontrovertible incompatibility of peculiars and “normals.”

As the first book opens, Jacob is just a glum teenager with no friends and an untrustworthy therapist. Eventually, he is welcomed into a “Loop” in Cairnholm, Wales, that protects Miss Peregrine’s peculiar children from the hostile normal world in a sealed, secret sphere in which a single day in 1940 is preserved and repeated interminably. But at the beginning, his only real connection to the peculiar world is the sensational stories and bizarre personal effects of his soon-murdered Polish grandfather Abraham.

The stories, which Jacob doesn’t quite believe, concern fighting monsters in Europe in World War II. The personal effects include a collection of vintage black and white photographs too bizarre not to have been doctored in some way—a girl making fire in her hands, a boy with bees in his stomach, a girl with a mouth in the back of her head, a boy who appears invisible except for his clothes. What makes this book—and all subsequent volumes in the series—all the more intriguing is that these unexplainable images accompany the text.

The first Miss Peregrine’s book all but dares readers not to suspend their disbelief. These pictures can’t possibly be telling the too-strange story they seem to tell. There has to be some other explanation. What’s more, the idea of this old immigrant Jewish man telling his grandson dramatic tales of his World War II-era battles with malevolent monsters has to be a metaphor for fighting Nazis.

That the monsters in Abraham Portman’s stories don’t turn out to be Nazis is perhaps a little disappointing at first. But by revealing that these creatures are not metaphoric Nazis but actual monsters—hideously, vividly realized ones at that—Riggs unleashes the series’ most terrifying and exciting fantasy elements. Doing so also gives the travails and vulnerabilities of the peculiar children greater elasticity as a metaphor than they would have had if Riggs had defined their pursuers as Nazis at the outset. The dangers of trying to survive as peculiars carry a metaphoric resonance that travels well, and blends into its surroundings with remarkable aplomb.

In A Map of Days, Jacob, his hand-sparking girlfriend Emma, and their peculiar compatriots Millard, the invisible boy; Enoch, the gifted reanimator; and the impossibly strong Bronwyn, reject the humdrum, unfit-for-heroes jobs assigned to them by Miss Peregrine, and set off on a treacherous mission to find and rescue an “uncontacted” peculiar girl. With cryptic clues provided by an old hollowgast-fighting brother-in-arms of Jacob’s grandfather, and a timeworn copy of Peculiar Planet, a peculiars’ safe travel guide reminiscent of the segregation-era Negro Motorist Green Book, the crew crosses multiple time periods, traveling through loops and landscapes of the rural South and eventually to points north.

In one leg of their journey, after being joined by Paul, a young African-American peculiar, Jacob and his friends find themselves navigating the back roads of northern Florida in 1965. After Paul points out that he can’t go into a segregated coffee shop with the rest of them, indignation rises among the other peculiar children. Mixing the strange science of peculiar time travel and the bitter realities of the Jim Crow South yields one of the book’s most poignant exchanges:

“What if we burned the place down?” Enoch suggested.

“That would accomplish nothing,” said Millard. “The past—”

“I know, I know, the past heals itself.”

“The past?” Paul shook his head. “Is nothing but an open wound.”

“What he meant is you can’t change the past,” said Bronwyn.

“I know what he meant,” Paul said, then went quiet again.

Later on, when they learn the backstory of an “uncontacted” peculiar who feels unfairly scrutinized and targeted for changes in herself she doesn’t yet understand and can’t control, Millard says, “There could be people watching her. People she doesn’t know. And it’s frightening.”

The peculiar girl’s friend and protector replies, “You’re describing the experience of almost every teenage girl.”

Other parts of the peculiars’ travels through different eras are tantalizingly fleeting, such as their brief sojourn in 1929 Manhattan. But there’s more to come: A Map of Days concludes very much in the middle of things, with a new and perilous adventure just beginning. The book seems to get there remarkably fast. A Map of Days reveals Ransom Riggs at the peak of his powers, leaving loyal fans ravenous for more.