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Book Review: The Peculiars by Maureen Doyle McQuerry

There are tales that in the outlying region of Scree there live a brand of people known as Peculiars.  These peculiars have many bizarre physical characteristics which make them unacceptable to modern society.  They have been shunned and labelled criminals.  And if tales are to be believed, Lena’s father is one of them.  In fact, Lena has some traits of her own that suggest she may be as well.

On her 18th birthday Lena receives a letter and some money and decides that she will travel to the land of Scree to find answers for herself.  She leaves the only home she has ever known and boards a train that will lead her on more adventures than she has ever known.  In her adventures she meets Jimson, a mysterious marshal who may know – and hate – her father, the flamboyant Mr. Beasley and his crazy concoctions.  And she meets many people with secrets like her own.

After a train robbery leaves her with little funds, Lena spends time in the care of Mr. Beasley, having been asked to spy on him by the marshal and learns that the people around her are often not whom they see.  Her spying puts events into motion that causes many, including Lena, to flee in an amazing flying contraption to the land of Scree where the real adventure begins.

The Peculiars should be an adventurous addition to the steampunk genre, but there is little steam and the adventure stalls when Lena ends up in a town outside the forbidden lands trying to find a guide.  Part of the problem is that it is clear to the reader what is going on in around Lena, even when she is not.  There is a certain amount of naivete that makes sense on Lena’s part; she has, after all, spent a great deal of her life hiding as much as possible because of those ailments that may make her peculiar.  But at the end of the day, the plot trapping knock you over the head with an anvil, even if Lena isn’t seeing the clues.

It is Lena’s naivete that sets that last third of the book in motion and the action finally picks up; but to be honest, before I got to this part I had set the book down and read three other books only to come back to it out of sheer will and determination.  I am not sure that teen readers have that driving principal to finish books that don’t hold their attention.  If they do, readers will actually be rewarded in the last 3rd of the book as the cast set out into Scree – finally – in a literal flight for their lives.  The Peculiars is clearly set up for a sequel and as Lena finally starts showing some growth readers may turn in for part two.  But, to be honest, I doubt that I will.

To be fair, my co-worker borrowed my ARC, which I picked up at ALA, and she genuinely liked this book.  The actual print cover is a fantastic improvement over the ARC cover and steampunk is definitely popular this year, so you may want to give this title a try.  One definite thing that it has in its favor is that it is a much more gentler read than a lot of the YA titles I have been reading lately; it has a lightness about it in tone, theme, language and sexual tension.  It will definitely work for younger YA readers as an introduction to the genre.  3 out of 5 stars. (Karen)

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