On Being Peculiar

I don’t know if you’ve read the book Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children and its sequels.  If not, I’d recommend it.  The protagonist acts like a teenager in most of the more annoying ways at the beginning, but it does get interesting fast.  Plus, Tim Burton made it into a movie that looks like it will be pretty good.

The idea of the story is that there are some people born with “peculiarities,” or special powers.  Because humans are terrible at being nice to each other when there are any sort of differences between them, and because there are others who want to exploit their abilities, those peculiar people have to hide.

No, it isn’t quite like X-men.  Though that’s another good story.

I’ve thought about why Miss Peregrine’s is such an appealing story, and come to the conclusion that it’s because of one of the themes it shares with so many young adult books:  that of being different.

Adolescence and young adulthood are kind of rotten.  Your body and mind have run off and changed on you without your permission.  You’re supposed to act more like an adult than ever before, but still get treated like a child.  Decisions about future careers are demanded from you while laws and policy that affect your options are made without you getting to vote on it.  You’re locked in a building with hundreds of others in just as vulnerable a position as you, and you’ve just realized (if you hadn’t before) that you aren’t normal.

The understanding that “normal” doesn’t exactly exist anyways comes later.

Of course young adults are interested in stories about people who are even less normal than they are.  A human Taser with Tourette’s Syndrome.  A boy wizard whose scar attracts far too much attention.  A kid with the magical gift of breaking anything he touches.  Werewolves and vampires, mutants and peculiars.  I’ve forgotten how many times I dressed as Rogue from the X-men during middle school.  If Miss Peregrine’s Home had existed when I was that age, I’d have wanted to go there too.

The thing these stories about being different taught me as a kid, and still teach me when I forget it, is that being different, or peculiar, or whatever other term you care to use, is okay.  Accepting yourself as you are, even when you know there’s room for improvement, is okay.

That’s a lesson we all need, I think, when pressure to conform comes at us from all sides, whether in appearance or politics or liking Marvel or DC.

Plus, you know, having a character who can hold fire in her bare hands is just cool.

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