The Peculiars by Maureen Doyle McQuerry
Somehow, that REALLY screwed up the formatting right there. Um. Moving on.
So I would first like to say that this story is a thinly veiled discovery story that tries to answer the question of Nature vs Nurture. It goes back to the very beginnings of Darwin's discoveries and society's attitude towards it.
First there is Lena who is raised by her Mother and Grandmother in an environment where her long hands and feet are something to be despised and hidden because they mark her as a 'Peculiar'. Peculiars are people who have some sort of genetic difference than the rest of the people; it could be long hands or feet, a funky nose, or even wings (more on that later). Peculiars are frowned upon and seen as soulless creatures that should be sent to the Scree.
The Scree is a land that is not ruled by the government persay, but a place where a lot of outlaws and Peculiars are sent. Peculiars usually end up working in the mines; work that is hard and undesirable, but I am getting ahead of myself.
So Lena is raised in a place where her hands are constantly hidden in gloves, her skirts are made specially in order to try and hide her feet. There is a lot to debate about whether her mother and grandmother tried to hide her because they were shamed by her differences, or if they hid her because they loved her and feared the rest of society.
Society seems to have the attitude that anyone who is Peculiar is soulless, evil, and known to be short of temper. The Peculiars seemed to be portrayed as angry people who try to do evil whenever they can and 'things' that must be feared. They remove any sense of personship from the Peculiar.
The adventure truly begins when Lena receives a letter from her Father; the man who left her when she was but five. She doesn't know much about her father other than what she remembers and her grandmother's occasional remark about his goblin blood. The letter has money in it and an abstract message. From the message, Lena decides that she must journey to the Scree in the hopes of finding her Father.
Now, I want to say something about the formatting of the book itself here. I extremely dislike how it was written in a third person perspective, yet we were informed of every thought, emotion, notion, that Lena contained. There was no mystery kept about Lena from the third person and everything we find of the other character's could have easily been revealed from first person. However, there are odd passages where Lena recalls memories that are written in first person; the memories are a much more satisfying read simply because it's what we've been reading all along; instead of 'Lena' all the time, it's 'I' sometimes. I found it maddening that the author probably thought they were clever by making it seem as if Lena was emotionally trying to distance herself from every situation she was in by writing in the third person; almost as if Lena was trying to remove herself from her own life. It's curious that her memories were in first person as they seem to be something she holds close and dearly and removes the third person perspective from as it's something she wants to remember, something she wants to keep close. But if that is the case, the entire book should not be written entirely in third person sans the memories; the book should shift to first person when the moment is right. Seriously. What the heck.
A side note, the technology of the world is steam-punk revolutionary. The story is set in an alternative 1800's yet uses some nuggets of historical facts to go along. It pretty much ignores most of history though and there is an implication that it could take place in a remote United States simply because of Darwin references, but it does seem to take place in a different made up country. The places we get to see are described well enough; but the country itself is obscure as far as government and even law enforcement go. There are things we are introduced to as far as 'Marshalls' and such go as the idea of law enforcement, but there are not guided or restrained by what we would consider laws or morals. There is too much that we are asked to simply accept as something we are familiar with and it is given characteristics we would not expect; it gives a weird feeling of being out of balance. It doesn't seem that this was intentional, but it could be given that the whole story is a little unbalanced.
So Lena has this adventure where she's introduced from her ingrained way of thinking about the Peculiars to understanding the true nature of each individual person; or at least trying to.
The adventure itself isn't particularly exciting or important; the 'hidden' messages are what the book is trying to make stand out.
OFF TO SPOILER LAND WE GO.
If you have any intention of reading the book and want nothing ruined about it, please stop reading now.
So Lena first encounters the character of Jimson who is a man who fancies himself to be a scientist of sorts and is on his way to become a librarian despite having no previous experience. Lena is whole heartedly shocked by such a person as she's never encountered someone who has seen her hands before and who just seems curious about them; not disgusted, not scornful, just curious. She immediately frowns upon him for not being proper and is sure to point out how he is dressed and compares it to her own 'sensible' and 'dignified' clothing. She is further shocked out of her humble life by the freeing of a prisoner on the train that was set to go to the Scree. She arrives at the town, escapes the company of Jimson, finds herself a boarding room and with confused merriment, tries to find a guide to take her into Scree.
Instead, she finds a Marshall who has taken interest in her because of her Father. The Marshall is a complete creep by the way. Lena has many moments of 'too dumb to live' when she encounters the Marshall simply because he flirts with her and charms her. There are moments when she seems to be sightly unsettled but does an 'OH WELL, HE'S MARSHALL, HAHAHAHAHA' crap. She asks a stranger on the beach about a guide to Scree who introduces himself as Milo and directs her to two people. The first one doesn't matter because she's just the mother figure who doesn't do much to the story's benefit. The second one is Mr. Beasley. After a brief whatever encounter with the mother figure, she moves on to find Mr. Beasley who also happens to be the man that employed Jimson to be his librarian.
The tragedy of this is Lena starts as a sort of agent for the Marshall because she's suspicious of Mr. Beasley due to the Marshall and has a weird notion of civic duty. She spends time with Mr. Beasley and Jimson and the housekeeper, Mrs. Pollet. She learns to understand and begins to care for them despite her ridiculous notions from her upbringing but STUPIDLY still trusts that REALLY CREEPY Marshall. She discloses information to the Marshall which begins the downfall of Mr. Beasley.
Now Mrs. Pollet is married to Mr. Pollet; he dies from his injuries he received from falling off a ladder. It's revealed that Mrs. Pollet is actually a Peculiar who has had her wings removed. She also has two daughters; one of them died and the other is residing at Mr. Beasley's to have her wings removed as well. It turns out that Mr. Beasley helps Peculiars with his medical knowledge and helps them find refuge and gets them to where they want go with proper documentation and such. He's a one man underground railroad of sorts.
Mr. Beasley's a badass. Just saying. He's also an inventor who seems to have great faith in people, but also truly understands the nature of people even if they (Cough cough LENA YOU'RE A MORON cough cough) don't know themselves.
Blah blah blah the Marshall and his men bust in and try to arrest Mr. Beasley but Jimson, Mrs. Pollet's daughter, Mr. Beasley himself, and Lena all make off in a flying machine Mr. Beasley invented. They being their journey into Scree where things are a little weird BUT NOT OUT OF THIS WORLD JACKED UP.
I am so frustrated with the book's stance on Scree that it's a place to be feared, all of the crap is weird, omg there's so many weird things in the Scree, BLAH BLAH BLAH. THE ENTIRE BOOK IS LIKE OMG THE SCREE, WHAT DO? They get into the Scree and it turns out that yeah, things are a little weird, but there's still people and humanity and whatever despite other things. GEEZ, IT'S ALMOST LIKE THE BOOK WAS TRYING TO MAKE A SUPER OBNOXIOUS POINT.
One thing that absolutely annoys me to no end about this book is that the author wrote it as if everyone is an absolute moron that needs to be spooned VERY SLOWLY the ambiguous point of the story.
You know how there's that saying 'beating a dead horse' which is someone just obnoxiously repeating their point? This book acts as if the horse is so dead that it's a zombie horse which needs to be made sure it's dead all over again before repeatedly beating it. And since it might be a zombie, and oooo zombie horse, what the hell, let's just beat it up some more.
UGH. I almost didn't finish this book. I was so annoyed with it that I kept falling asleep on it. That's right, I get so mad at books I just angrily sleep at them. What.
So Lena has this moment where the missionaries; oh yeah there are missionaries who have been a side note reference throughout the book and suddenly come into play towards the end. LOLOLOL didn't see that coming... What's that horse? BEAT IT. BEAT IT NOWWW.
So the missionaries have gotten crapped on while they're trying to go into the deeper parts of Scree to save the souls who live among the soulless. They've gotten so crapped on that Lena's party stops to help them. Lena ends up hating them because they're all 'Oh, you're Peculiar? I knew there was something wrong with you, BLAH MISSIONARY NOISES'. Lena gets all mad and is like I DON'T ACT THE WAY I DO BECAUSE I'M PECULIAR, I ACT THE WAY I DO BECAUSE I'M ME AND NOT BECAUSE OF MY PARENTS OR ANYONE ELSE. NEHHH. The missionaries get all huffy and disregard her.
Little did they know that Lena just answered the question that she's maybe sort of been alluding to the entire book. THE ENTIRE BOOK FOR HER TO GET ONE ANSWER. RAHFDSHFDSFDSAFASDF.
They pull a 'everything works out in the end because Mr. Beasley is smart and can take care of things; HAHAHAHA MEN KNOW THINGS AND ARE THE ULTIMATE TOOL TO MAKE THE WORLD BETTER LOL' But I don't even want to talk about it. I just don't. The book is like, Women's rights? HA. No, that's something that doesn't exist. But Peculiars, AW YEAH. WHERE'S THAT HORSE?
AND ANOTHER THINGS. THE FREAKING PECULIARS.
So the book builds this weird boogey man crap about the Peculiars, but the only Peculiars we truly get to see are ones that have long hands/feet, and ones that have wings. There is a reference to one or two other things that may be Peculiar, but there's nothing that really implies the Peculiars are a diverse group. They toss around science like it's magic but it's not. So knock it off.
In summary, it took me way too long to read this damn book because I kept angry sleeping on it. I would wake up and realize I had much better things to do. Then I'd try to read it again, get about another fifty to sixty pages in and angry sleep on it again. Repeat until the book is done. It even ends with a sense of 'Everything turned out alright, we even snuck some romance in there HAHAHAHAHA' because only when someone truly loves you, you can accept yourself right? That's a terrible message and you should feel bad.
I didn't like this book. I'm going to recommend it to people that I want to stop asking me for book recommendations. Because I can. Maybe they'll angry sleep on it too. Maybe we can have a lively discussion of how atrocious the book was.
I really hope this isn't the first book in a series.
...happy reading SOMETHING ELSE.
That poor horse.