I am late to this party. A colleague of mine recommended this book two years ago. I put it on my wish list, finally bought it this summer, and just read it when our German exchange student began raving about it.
My nine-year-old, who is a big reader, tried to join us, but the beginning was just too slow. I have to agree with her. The novel opens with Jacob Portman’s relationship with his odd grandfather, who tries to convince him there are monsters in the world with very specific stories and photographs, and who dies a traumatic death in the woods, which Jacob witnesses and sends him into therapy. His parents and therapist explain these odd stories away with the fact that Jacob’s grandfather was a Jewish child in WWII Europe whose family were killed by the Nazis. The monsters, they reassure Jacob, were the Nazis. Jacob, however, cannot get over the nightmares that began when his grandfather was murdered and, when he discovers that the school his grandfather talked about is on a Welsh island, he talks his therapist into supporting his trip there and brings along his ne’er-do-well bird-watching father with some enticing rare birds.
Jacob finds a bombed-out dilapidated building that had been a school and a trunk with more pictures like those his grandfather had showed him. Eventually he stumbles upon a “loop,” a day that repeats over and over, the day the school was bombed by Nazis, and he finds the children and the teacher that featured in his grandfather’s stories.
Once Jacob is on the island, the story moves fairly quickly. Much of the charm of the story comes from the vintage photographs, which Ransom gathered from collectors and uses to illustrate the story.
This novel did a lot of interesting set up work, but, given the slow start, I am somewhat surprised it became as popular as it did. The peculiar children have powers, but they are not amazing powers. In fact, most of the powers on their own create problems for the children rather than empowerment.
I am interested to see how this translates to film this month and to read the later volumes in the series, one of which was just released this week.