My granddaughter asked me to read this and discuss it with her. She loved it. It is a supernatural YA novel, containing some violence and some tenderness. It is very imaginative and creative with unexpected twists and turns. There are subtleties that might not be obvious to some young readers. The Hollowgasts are the enemy of the “Peculiars”. This is a term similar in pronunciation (especially in the audio book), to another word about a true horror story. The term Hollowgasts sounds ominously like the term Holocaust, which was taking place at the time Jacob Portman’s grandfather, Abe, was in the Home For Peculiar Children on Cairnholm Isle, a fictional island in Wales. One word described an enemy trying to get rid of all Peculiars and the other an enemy trying to rid the world of Jews. The comparison of the two words could lead to an educational discussion. Both words are about evil. Another discussion point could be that in life, as on Cairnholm, people are often judged or misjudged, perhaps unfairly, by the things they do and the way they look
In the audio, an absolutely fantastic reader, with a voice full of the excitement, emotion and fear experienced by Jacob, will lead you on Jacob’s journey. In the hard copy, unusual vivid pictures accompany the narrative, which truly enhance the tale. So suspend disbelief, and enjoy this sometimes brutal, but also compassionate fairytale. It is about Jacob’s love for his grandfather which leads him to fulfill Abe’s dying wish, even at great peril to himself.
Jacob was born in and lived in Florida. His grandfather, Abraham Portman, had been born in Poland. Although Abe kept his distance from others, those two had a strong bond. Jacob’s grandfather used to tell him amazing stories, accompanied by old photos to back up the odd details about a group of unusual orphans. During WWII, Abe was one of them. When Jacob told his grandfather that he no longer believed in his “fairy” stories, that he had grown out of the fables he had told him, his grandfather stopped telling them. He was unable to understand why his grandfather had told him the stories as if they were true, when they were obviously not! His father told him that they weren’t lies but exaggerations of his grandfather’s horrible life as a child. Yet his grandfather’s memories of his childhood were happy ones. Jacob had been told that at the age of 12, because of WWII, his parents had sent Abe, a Jew, to England, in order to protect him from the horrors of the war, but was that the end of Abe and Jacob’s story or just the beginning?
One day, Jacob received a call from his grandfather who was desperately looking for a key to his stockpile of weapons. He believed he was being chased by monsters who were his enemies. The key had been hidden from him because he was beginning to show signs of dementia. Jacob, and his best friend Ricky, went to check on his grandfather. When found, he was severely wounded. Abe’s last words, whispered to Jacob, told him to “go to the island, here it is not safe. Find the bird in the loop on the other side of the old man’s grave, September 3, 1940…”. The message is cryptic and Jacob is confused. In the distance, his flashlight shone on something in the woods that was “a face transplanted from the nightmares of his childhood”. However, no one believed his story about Abe and what he saw, not even his best friend.
At his surpise 16th birthday, his aunt brought him a gift. It was one of his grandfather’s books which had an inscription to Jacob. Within it was a letter addressed to his granddad from Alma Peregrine, the headmistress of the orphanage on the island of Cairnholm, Wales, where his grandfather had lived. Inspired by the letter and his grandfather’s whispered message as he lay dying, he convinced his family to let him go to Cairnholm to learn more about Abe’s life. His father, an ornithologist, goes with him to investigate the birds on the island for a book he is writing. The island is remote and has few creature comforts, but for the first time, Jacob has a dreamless night of sleep, free of nightmares.
From here, the story takes off into a realm of the imagination. On his first exploration of the island, he finds the orphanage completely abandoned and damaged beyond repair. He begins to investigate the background of the home and he goes to the museum curator to find out more about it. He learns his granddad was the only survivor of a bombing that destroyed it. Then one night, a “peregrine” falcon flies into his bedroom, and he decides to return to the dilapidated home to investigate it again. On his way to the orphan’s home, it begins to rain, and symbolically, he remembers that his mom used to call the rain, “orphan’s tears”.
Once there, he hears the voice of a girl, and he discovers she has peculiar talents. She is one of the Peculiars his grandfather had told him about. Thus begins Jacob’s fantastic journey to discover the secrets of his grandfather’s message and life. He learns about strange and dangerous creatures called Wights and Hollowgasts. They are the enemies of the Peculiars. He discovers a world, inside the “loop” where the Peculiars can live safely, as long as they relive the same day, 09/03/40, over and over again. No one ages there; time stops. Jacob finds he can enter that time and experience what his grandfather did in the world of the Peculiars and Ymbrynes. They each have unique special powers. When the Peculiars have to escape the island, and begin again, in search of another loop, within which they can live safely, time begins to move forward. They leave the island on their journey of discovery, on 09/04/40. It is no longer 09/03/40. As he discovers the truth about his grandfather and his life, he will have to decide where his own life will lead him, from here on in.
An interesting comparison of the characters Jacob and Abe, is that Jacob leaves his home to explore Cairnholm Isle, at about the same age his grandfather leaves his home in Cairnholm to fight in WWII. In a sense, it is a coming of age novel for both young men. They discovered their true purpose in life at about the same chronological age, in two different periods of time. While this book has been viewed as a crossover by many, I think it is more geared to YA than Adult. There are some sophisticated themes, but the writing felt too simplistic to crossover completely. There is a sequel to this book and it promises to be equally as exciting. I know my granddaughter is holding her breath for it!
This author used words exceedingly well to subtly encourage the reader to think of comparisons to other events, real and imaginary. For example:
Hollowgast=empty, A Hollow is a fallen spirit that is born from a regular spirit (plus) that has lingered in the living world after death too long, also means to frighten.
Holocaust=The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazi regime. Many others were murdered as well.
Wight is a creature, a human being, in some definitions, one raised from the dead. In recent books, it has been used to define the undead. In the book, the wights lure the victims to the hollowgasts. One hollowgast is compared to the real Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial killer.
Ymbryne= Ymbryne:– According to author, a lapse in time. In Shelfari, the definition is an Anglo-Saxon compound word “ymb”, meaning time, and “ryne”, meaning a course or circuit.