On her 18th birthday, Lena Mattacascar decides to search for her father, who disappeared into the northern wilderness of Scree when Lena was young. Scree is inhabited by Peculiars, people whose unusual characteristics make them unacceptable to modern society. Lena wonders if her father is the source of her own extraordinary characteristics and if she, too, is Peculiar. On the train north, she meets Jimson Quiggley, a young librarian who is traveling to a town on the edge of Scree to work in the home and library ...
On her 18th birthday, Lena Mattacascar decides to search for her father, who disappeared into the northern wilderness of Scree when Lena was young. Scree is inhabited by Peculiars, people whose unusual characteristics make them unacceptable to modern society. Lena wonders if her father is the source of her own extraordinary characteristics and if she, too, is Peculiar. On the train north, she meets Jimson Quiggley, a young librarian who is traveling to a town on the edge of Scree to work in the home and library of the inventor Mr. Beasley. The train is soon boarded by a handsome young marshal, Thomas Saltre, who learns who Lena’s father is and convinces her to spy on Mr. Beasley and the strange folk who disappear into his home, called Zephyr House. Eventually, though, Lena must venture into the wilds of Scree and confront her deepest fears.
Though Lena Mattacascar is a decisive 18-year-old, her journey from middle-class respectability to adventuress has a youthful air of fantasy about it. She leaves the city, where she has grown up, by train to travel to Scree, an uncharted wilderness of “indigenous folks” and deported convicts, with an earnest young librarian named Jimson Quiggley as her seatmate and the dour eye of marshal Thomas Saltre upon them. Lena cannot stop thinking about her mysterious father, who disappeared in a cloud of infamy when she was young, or about the possibility that there is a soulless “Peculiar” in her family tree (Lena is highly self-conscious about her large, extra-jointed hands and feet). Scree is the place where Lena’s questions might be answered, but arriving there just multiplies them. Readers graduating from the stories of C.S. Lewis and Edward Eager will be right at home—and cat lovers will adore Jimson’s employer’s pet, Mrs. Mumbles. McQuerry’s extensive world-building leaves open the possibility of future installments, though the questions Lena is left with are the kind answered less by adventuring than by growing up. Ages 12–up. Agent: Sandra Bishop, MacGregory Literary Agency. (May)
- Amy Sisson
In The Peculiars, Lena Mattacascar turns eighteen and promptly leaves home to seek her father in the northern wilderness called Scree, where individuals known as Peculiars are rumored to live. Born with excessively large hands and feet, Lena is worried that she is half-Peculiar, or more specifically half-Goblin, a dangerous heritage to possess in a country where Peculiars can be persecuted without repercussion. On her journey, Lena meets Jimson Quiggley, a librarian who works for the mysterious inventor Mr. Beasley, as well as a handsome marshal named Thomas Saltre. Hoping that the lawmen will help her locate her father's trail, she allows him to talk her into spying on Mr. Quiggley and Mr. Beasley. While The Peculiars is competently written on the prose level, the plot is slow and the world rather pedestrian. The book's attractive cover misleads by showcasing a sensual blond with wings surrounded by steampunk tropes, when in reality the winged girl is a minor character and the book's setting lacks the charm readers have come to expect from the popular steampunk genre. While the story finally picks up when Lena learns that Mr. Beasley has been helping Peculiars pass as normal or escape to less hostile environments, and she finally must choose a side, the book's resolution is perfunctory and too open-ended to be satisfying. In today's exploding, versatile YA marketplace, it seems likely this book may please only the most voracious readers. Reviewer: Amy Sisson
- Allison Fetters
When Lena Mattagascar turns eighteen, she decides to go in search of her father. She has high hopes of finding answers to the question if she is part goblin, or a Peculiar, as her kind is known in that part of the world. Mystery is in the air as she sets off on her journey. From the beginning of her journey, she encounters a young, soon-to-be librarian named Jimson who becomes a friend. They arrive in Knoster and go their separate ways but before long, Lena finds herself going in search for Jimson and the strange scientist, Mr. Beasley, for whom Jimson works. She must secure a guide into Scree, the strange and dangerous land of the Peculiars, as she continues the search for her father. Throughout the experience, Lena is a levelheaded young girl who is smart to be cautious about those she can trust as life presents her with unexpected twists and turns. From the beginning of the book until the very last page, the reader is enthralled by the story line and remains in excited anticipation of what will happen next during Lena's extraordinary adventure. Reviewer: Allison Fetters
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Set in an alternative version of the late 1800s, The Peculiars successfully weaves fact, fiction, and fantasy into a riveting adventure tale. Lena Mattacascar is a particularly sympathetic protagonist struggling to find a sense of self under difficult circumstances. On her 18th birthday she's given a letter and a small legacy from the father who's been absent most of her life. Since hearing about his "goblinish" ways her entire adolescence and wondering if she takes after him, Lena sets off to Scree, a wild land on the edges of civilization where "peculiars" are thought to gather. The action starts on the train ride there when a prisoner being transported to Scree is kidnapped and Lena meets a scientific-minded young gentleman who is intrigued, but not repulsed by her unusually large hands and feet. A well-paced plot and compelling characters that develop throughout the book make this easy to read and hard to put down. Themes of acceptance, character, and self-determination are explored without superseding the beautifully crafted story. A wonderful read, recommended for all collections.Sunnie Sette, New Haven Public Library, CT
Lonely Lena Mattacascar heads to the border to find a father she barely remembers and an answer to her unusual appearance. Armed with a letter and money from her absent father, 18-year-old Lena leaves her dour mother and grandmother and takes the train toward Scree--wilderness, penal colony and rumored reservation for Peculiars, humanoid creatures with tell-tale abnormalities. Cursed with elongated fingers and feet, Lena both fears that she may be a Peculiar and hopes that she may find acceptance in Scree. Obstacles plague Lena's journey, and she is soon stranded in the faded seaside town of Knob Knoster. While seeking a guide and more money for her expedition, she finds herself working at Mr. Beasley's steampunk-esque Zephyr House alongside the endearingly earnest librarian Jimson Quiggley, on a secret mission from the charismatic blackmailer Marshal Saltre. Set in a vaguely Victorian world, Gothic elements permeate the story: a mysterious house, an abundance of secrets, odd servants and competing romantic figures, though Lena's shame over her abnormalities alienates her from both Saltre and Quigley. The sporadic action scenes feel artificial, but the ambiguity surrounding the existence of Peculiars and the origin of their physical deformities--magic? genetics?--is thought-provoking. A slow but richly atmospheric read. (Steampunk. 12 & up)
Maureen Doyle McQuerry is an award-winning poet, author, and teacher. She was the 2000 McAuliffe Fellow for Washington State and has published two nonfiction books and numerous poems. She is the author of the Time Out of Time duet. She lives in Richland, Washington. Visit her online at maureenmcquerry.com.