The Peculiars by Maureen Doyle McQuerry

April 30, 2012 Reviews 0

I am happy to share my review of The Peculiars with you today, along with an interview with the author Maureen Doyle McQuerry. 

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review purposes, through netGalley.

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 she meets a young librarian, Jimson Quiggley, 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 stopped by men being chased by the handsome young marshal Thomas Saltre. When Saltre learns who Lena’s father is, he convinces her to spy on Mr. Beasley and the strange folk who disappear into his home, Zephyr House. A daring escape in an aerocopter leads Lena into the wilds of Scree to confront her deepest fears.

This is a wonderful coming of age story, about a young girl who has no idea how to define herself and so embarks on the journey of a lifetime to find out. I thoroughly enjoyed The Peculiars – whenever I had to go away from it I was counting down until I could immerse myself in the rich world that McQueery has created. And what a wonderful world it is: based on our own and featuring the wild inventions that have shaped it, with a quirky new twist that kept me entertained.

McQueery certainly knows how to spin a yarn. The build up the story is slow, as Lena tries to find a place in Mr. Beasley’s household and live on her own for the first time. There are so many mysteries in Lena’s life, and we, as readers, are kept in the dark with her. As more information becomes available and the action picks up, the story becomes more and more engaging, until you can’t bear to put it down!

The characters are, without a doubt, the richest aspect of the story. Lena is a sweet girl, plagued by the differences that set her apart from others, but trying desperately to find her own niche in the world. I thought her a bit dense, irrationally feeling jealous when Jimson receives letters from (she thinks) his fiance and sneaking about Mr. Beasley’s house like a five-year-old. Jimson is by far my favourite character: vivacious and full of laughter, brimming with excitement about life in general. I have to admit I liked Thomas Saltre as well, until he asked Lena to spy – and then I deeply mistrusted him!

I like The Peculiars and think those who enjoy steam punk and a good story will like it a lot. It’s different from most of the YA that I read and I enjoyed it a lot more for that.

About the book:

  • Date published: 01 May 2012
  • Publisher: Abrams (Amulet Books)
  • Format: Paperback, 368 pages
  • ISBN 13: 9781419701788  ISBN 10: 1419701789
  • Categories: Young Adult, Steampunk
  • Goodreads / The Book Depository 

Maureen was kind enough to answer a few questions about her book:

The Peculiars is a refreshingly original novel. Did anything in particular inspire you to write it?

The story started, as my book ideas often do, with an image. It was the image of a girl with unusually long hands sitting on a steam train. I never know where the images come from, but I know that I should pay attention when they do. Lena’s voice came soon after that. I knew that she was embarking on a journey and that the journey had to do with discovering who she is. I always have questions I’m trying to explore when I first start writing. In The Peculiars, the story question was “Will we become who our parents are?”

As the story progressed other questions emerged. What does it mean to be different and how does society treat people who are? What defines us as individuals and of course that brings up the eternal question of environment VS heredity. I wanted explore that in a time period when less was known about genetics than we know now.

Could you tell us a little about when and where the novel is set?

The novel is set in a fictional 1888 on the northwest coast of the United States. I wanted to include people, events and inventions from the late 1880’s to add some depth and quirks to the time period. And because this is a work of fiction I took liberties with 1888. For example, I included the Pony Express which was no longer in service in the real 1888. I pictured Canada as Scree, a land inhabited by aboriginal peoples and declared terra nullius by the U.S. government. There are definitely nods to Australia’s history.

Did Lena spring fully formed into your head, or did you have to tease her out of hiding?  

Lena did spring fully formed. Once I knew about her hands, I wondered about her feet. Both hands and feet reference George MacDonald’s descriptions of goblins. Goblin blood became the thing Lena was worried about. And I knew these traits would make her very self-conscious. I also thought about the poem “Goblin Market” as I developed her fear of a wild and untamed heart.

Has your life changed much since you found out The Peculiars will be published?

The journey to publication is very exciting, but it’s also very slow. Nothing happens overnight. So, on a day to day basis not much has changed except getting chances for great interview questions and connecting with new people. The month of May when Peculiars is released will be very busy. I’ll be traveling to bookstores and schools. I love presenting in schools, and having the book out gives me more opportunities to do that. I’m grateful for the interaction with people who like to talk about books and ideas. It’s also given me the courage to keep writing.

You are journeying to the wilderness north of Scree and can only take three books with you. Which books do you choose?

This is such a difficult question for me, because different books serve different purposes at different times in my life. There are times when I need to hear from a particular voice and times when a book gets me through hard times in my life.

Because I love myth so much, I would take the master of myth JRR Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. I’d really want to take the whole series. Dorothy Sayer’s Gaudy Night because Harriet Vane is my all-time favorite heroine and I think it is my favorite romance story. I would also take a copy of the Bible—it has everything poetry to thriller.

And lastly, will there be a sequel?

I think there may be. I’ve left Jimson and Lena’s relationship unresolved. They’re separated by vast distances. But I haven’t started the sequel yet. Instead I’ve been immersed in a Seattle noir story that’s definitely sci-fi and surprisingly a romance.


Maureen Doyle McQuerry is an award-winning poet and author and a teacher specializing in YA literature and writing. She was the 2000 McAuliffe Fellow for Washington state. Her poems regularly appear in the Southern Review, Atlanta Review, and others. She lives in Richland, Washington. Visit her blog and be sure to check out her Facebook and Twitter pages.

A huge thank you to the wonderful folks at Abrams Books for providing this wonderful book for review and to Maureen to making herself available to answer questions. 

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