‘Hollow City’ Is a Perfect Blend of Creepiness and Thoughtfulness

[12 May 2014]

By Catherine Ramsdell

I’ve always loved YA books. Lately, though, the glut of dystopian YA fiction has left me feeling a little underwhelmed. It’s what I call the Law and Order syndrome: if one Law and Order is good then two must be better.

In the literary world, it seems that publishers have decided if one dystopian YA book can sell thousands of copies, then they should just keep pumping these books out until every possible dystopian scenario has been told (and retold). It’s not that all of these books are bad; it’s just that there are so many of them.

And Hollywood doesn’t help. Its latest endeavor: to bring The Giver to the big screen this summer (although the trailer, which makes it look like the entire film is in color, is giving many Giver fans pause).

It’s more than a little refreshing, then, to pick up a YA book that provides a different perspective. Ransom Rigg’s Hollow City, the second novel in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children‘s series, definitely provides this perspective. Like the first book in the series, much of Hollow City takes place in the past and provides a type of alternative reality that at times is uncomfortably close to our actual reality.  Aso like the first book, Hollow City includes vintage photographs of clowns, men with “invisible” feet, and unusual monuments.

Hollow City starts off exactly where Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children ends: the peculiars in boats fleeing from the wights and on the lookout for hollows. Their headmistress, Miss Peregrine, is stuck in bird form, and the team of peculiars is on a quest to restore her to human form.

The peculiars travel through loops that transport them to different times and places (note—read this series in order—some of Rigg’s ideas are a little confusing to begin with and reading the books out of order will only compound this) and meet an interesting set of characters along the way—including animal peculiars. One of the new characters this go round is a cigar-smoking dog named Addison, and another is Deirdre, a donkey and giraffe mix called emu-raffe. Why not donkey-raffe? “Because what kind of an awful name is that? Emu-raffe rolls off the tongue, don’t you think?” Although not named, this community also boasts chickens that when agitated lay exploding eggs.

Another set of characters: gypsies. And while adults reading the novel should immediately see the parallels, Riggs, most likely in a nod to his YA audience, also has Bekhir, the leader of the Gypsies, explain: “We have an old understanding, your people and mine. We aren’t so different. Outcasts and wanderers all—souls clinging to the margins of the world.”

YA books are typically defined as such because of the point-of-view. Books told from a young adult point-of-view are generally considered YA. Riggs complicates this idea slightly. Main character Jacob Portman is a teenager, but many of the other “children” in this book are old souls in young bodies. At times, they may bicker as youngsters do and sometimes resentfully note they are being treated like children. Still, one of them freely admits to being 112, and Emma, Jacob’s romantic interest, tells him “I’m an old woman!...You think we’re alike, but we aren’t. This person you say you love? She’s really a hag, an old crone, hiding in the body of a girl…”

Some of the cynical humor is exemplified in my favorite line: “So it had come to this: everything depended on a pigeon.” That meaning may escape younger audiences, but the connections between reality and the peculiars’ world(s) should be clear to all. The wights could just as easily be Nazis, and adults both young and old can probably relate to the idea of not quite fitting in.

Described as both a thriller and a fantasy, Hollow City includes enough violence and general creepiness to satisfy. Torture, medical experiments, the bombings of London during World War II, and a clown that is peculiar in more than one sense of the word. But beyond the action-packed sequences where boulders crush hollows, trains almost run over the peculiars, and bombs destroy much of London, there is a thoughtfulness. 

After discovering the corpses of some peculiars who chose to hasten their aging process, Jacob thinks “I couldn’t help wondering, though, if these peculiars simply knew more than we did about what the wights did with their captives. Maybe we could choose death, too, if we knew.”

No one is going to accuse Riggs of churning out books quickly. Fans of the series have been waiting over two years for Hollow City. And even though it doesn’t have quite the cliffhanger ending that the first book does, most will probably hope that the claim the book ends with “Don’t Look Away. The Next Volume of the Peculiar Children Series is Coming Soon” will actually be true.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/181606-hollow-city-by-ransom-riggs/