Fifteen-year-old Jacob Portman begins the prologue by recounting the fascinating stories his grandfather, Grandpa Portman, used to tell him. They were about his childhood, after he was shipped off to a children’s home in Wales, allegedly because the “monsters were after him.”
Grandpa Portman talked about his life in the children’s home, where he lived in a big house protected from the monsters by what he called a “wise old bird.” He talked about the other children on the island, who were all peculiar in some way, and showed him pictures—an invisible boy, a levitating girl, and a boy with two mouths. As Jacob grew older, he realized that all these stories could not possibly be real.
Years later, his father told him the truth about Grandpa Portman’s life—how his parents sent him away from Poland to Britain just before World War II. He never saw his family again, as they were all killed by monsters—except these “monsters” were actually soldiers.
Jacob comes to believe that his grandfather exaggerated much of the truth about his life, convincing him that the children in the home on the island had miraculous powers when really they had just escaped the Holocaust. The prologue ends with Jacob warning readers that when he was fifteen, an extraordinary and terrible thing happened, separating his life into Before and After.
Chapter 1 flashes to Jacob’s last day of Before. He works at Smart Aid pharmacy, and complains about the fact that he hates his job but it is impossible for him to get fired since his uncle owns the entire Florida chain. That day at work, Jacob gets a call from his grandfather on the store phone. Grandpa Portman sounds frantic, demanding to know where his “key” went because there are monsters, and Jacob knows he is talking about the key to his locker full of weapons. Jacob thinks his grandfather is just getting old and beginning to lose his mind, but Grandpa Portman insists that the monsters are coming.
Jacob calls his father and tells him about his grandfather’s episode, and his father alludes to their previously discussed idea of putting Grandpa in a home. Jacob refuses and insists that he can handle him. Jacob goes outside and meets his best friend Ricky (who is really his only friend), who he has established a mutual-need relationship with: he helps Ricky pass English, and Ricky protects him from the terrible fate of most nerds at school.
Ricky takes him to Grandpa Portman’s house, and Jacob gets a good look at one of Grandpa Portman’s neighbors standing outside his house with milky-white eyes. Jacob rings the bell, but Grandpa Portman doesn’t answer. He goes into the house to look for him—still nothing. He spots a light in the backyard and Ricky sees a slash in the screen door that looks like a wild animal’s work.
Jacob heads into the woods to search for Grandpa Portman, and finds him face down on the ground, covered in blood. He is barely alive, with gashes across his midsection. Grandpa Portman mutters to Jacob, telling him to go to the island to be safe, and adding cryptic instructions: “Find the bird. In the loop. On the other side of the old man’s grave. September third, 1940. Emerson—the letter. Tell them what happened, Jacob.” He is dead by the time Ricky shows up. Suddenly a creature’s face appears in the trees, dark and terrible with a mass of eel-like tongues. He shouts at Ricky, who shoots in the direction Jacob points, but Ricky himself does not see the monster. That is the last thing Jacob can remember before he blacks out.
Like many other books of its kind, Miss Peregrine’s begins with a flashback. The protagonist, Jacob, tells this story in retrospect from a time in the future, so in the prologue, he speaks about his relationship with his grandfather and his opinion about all his stories with the knowledge of someone who already lived through this all already. The end of the prologue reads like a warning—something is about to happen, something that changes everything, so readers must be prepared.
Chapter 1 places us directly at the moment that will define Jacob’s “Before” and “After.” It no longer appears that he is speaking to us from the future; instead, we know only as much as he knows at the point in time being narrated, which heightens the suspense. In a story arc, the plot point in Chapter 1 would be called the inciting incident. It kicks off the main plot of the story and pushes the protagonist on a journey in some way. In this case, Jacob’s journey will be both physical and mental, as he learns more about everything his grandfather used to tell him.
These first chapters also establish Jacob as a character. Readers learn a lot about him—he dislikes his job, has a close relationship with his grandfather, and is a good student in school. Most importantly, Jacob is a loner, which leaves room for new people to come into his life and form new relationships. Ricky, his only friend, is in many ways his foil, but Ricky is from the “Before” part of his life. It is doubtful that he will fit into the “After.”
Often in stories, the protagonists have to uncover something about their own hidden past. In this case, however, it is not Jacob’s past that needs uncovering, but his grandfather’s. Grandpa Portman is the mysterious figure in this story, and his death is a common plot device. When the mysterious figure in a story dies, he can no longer give the protagonist or readers any more direct information. He leaves them to uncover it all on their own.
Grandpa Portman’s death also leaves Jacob and readers with a riddle to solve, one that will supposedly lead Jacob to safety. Right now, it sounds like gibberish, but Jacob will soon embark on his journey to figure out what his grandfather meant. Chapter 1 serves as a gateway to the rest of the story.