Updated: Apr 28, 2020
Author Webpage: The House In The Cerulean Sea | TJ Klune
Hints of: The Umbrella Academy (Comic), 1984, Good Omens, The Wayward Children Series
Serious Triggers: To relate this to our universe equivalents, this book is focused on a "social worker" who visits orphanages to determine if the children are safe and well. It could be difficult for someone who spent time in a State Family & Children Services system.
If you lived in a house that didn't accept you growing up, either due to sex, gender or orientation, this book could bring those memories or feelings to light.
Other Triggers: Gnomes, Cats (Serious LACK of Dogs), Cubicles, Public Transportation
Per My Last Email: If you have an outdated, wrong opinion on the definition of marriage, quite frankly you can get off my blog.
Linus Baker is a by-the-book case worker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He's tasked with determining whether six dangerous magical children are likely to bring about the end of the world. Arthur Parnassus is the master of the orphanage. He would do anything to keep the children safe, even if it means the world will burn. And his secrets will come to light. The House in the Cerulean Sea is an enchanting love story, masterfully told, about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.
Review: So I knew once I read the synopsis (above) this book was going to be fantastic. It was released March 2020, and is the 2nd full book by TJ Klune. Referring back to my "Hints of" it reminded me of a new favorite show of mine - The Umbrella Academy. Thinking about it now, it also gives me hints of Harry Potter - but possibly the Fantastic Beasts timeframe when there was open disdain for "magical beings".
Also, this book SCREAMS pre-1984. Or maybe even pre-Farenheit 451. Why? The main character - Linus Baker - works for the "Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY). It's very cube-life, shuffle papers, head down, grey lyfe vibes. Literally ya'll - they talk about posters with "See Something. Say Something." Nineteen. Eighty. Four.
Before we do a targeted review, let's try to wrap my head around the book essentials:
Themes: 1. Social Work/Orphange/Orphans 2. Magical Youth/Beings 3. Fear of Magical Youth/Beings 4. Unlikely Families 5. Work v. Life
Characters: 1. Main Characters: Linus Baker 2. DICOMY: Charles Werner & Extremely Upper Management 3. Marsyas Island Children: Lucy, Talia, Phee, Chauncey, Theodore, Sal 4. Marsyas Island Adults: Arthur Parnasas (Master of Orphanage), Zoe (Island Sprite) 5. Mainland Folks: Mayor Helen, Merle
Marsyas Children: 1. Lucy: "Anti-Christ", 6 yr. old boy, loves music & adventures 2. Talia: Female Gnome, loves gardening, witty as hell 3. Phee: Forest Sprite, family killed in fire, loves trees & soil & dirt 4. Chauncey: Unknown Species (I get flubber vibes with limbs), wants to be a bellhop when he grows up 5. Theodore: Wyvern (cross between a bat & a child I believe), doesn't speak English, likes "treasures" from friends & family 6. Sal: Transfigures to Pomeranian, 12 orphanages prior, very shy, loves to write
The major plot is "Will Linus let the orphanage stay open?" The book tracks his evolution during his month spent on the island with the children, Arthur, and Zoe. Linus - a by the books, rule follower - has his nearly two decades of rule-following challenged by children who are blanketed by most as "abominations" that really just want a permanent home.
So you can see how the themes play a role. Linus tries to remain unbiased during interrogating children. You can tell right off the bat it's going to be difficult, because he truly is an empathic character. He cares deeply for the children at any orphanage he visits - he's just never thought about his verdicts after he submits them to management. Being on this island for a month, it would be difficult not to develop attachments. Especially with a Master like Arthur who treats the children not like temporary residents, but like his own children.
The mainland inhabitants are a great way the author showcased what likely is the larger population being fearful of magical beings. Are the children on that island due to fear of the children? Or fear FOR the children from ignorant people? That is a great question the books focuses on.
The Work v. Life concept struck me deeply - likely because I'm 30 and have 30 years of work ahead of me but LET ME LIVE MY LIFE DAMN IT. The book had the group of DICOMY folks who were "upper management" because they did sticky things to get there, the terrible coworkers who gossip & don't care about you whatsoever, and the assignments given without question because that's your job and you don't get to question authority.
The author took it a step further. He wrote the city as grey, rainy, with late busses and nosy neighbors. The island on the other hand was surrounded by a cerulean sea, atop a hill, with a bright red house surrounded by a beautiful garden and flowers and forrest. Klune made the visuals distinctly pop in my head.
I think that's why this book would be great for a wide range of ages. I'd say ages 13 - 18 will pick up on the "need for belonging". 18 - 30 will pick up on "unlikely family" and 30+ will DEFINITELY feel the "Work v. Life" plot.
While the plot was predictable in a way, the imagery, character traits and character compassion drove the story and my heartstrings.
I say predictable because OF COURSE Linus is going to slowly develop soft spots for the children, and start to not wear a tie, and call Arthur and Zoe by their first names, and eventually go on adventures. Only an ASSHOLE would shut himself back up in the guest house every evening. Two things there:
1. I did not expect him to leave initially. I thought he was going to say "Screw It" and dramatically throw the files into the Sea like a badass. However I'm glad he didn't. TJ Klune brings him back home, he defends the children & Arthur, and the Orphanage is approved to stay open. Without that approval, it likely would have closed. I thought maybe they would "fight the man" and Arthur would light the place up with his Phoenix wings and Zoe and Lucy would raise the seas and forests. But I like that it was Linus who saved the day.
2. The interesting sub-plot here is the Arthur - Charles Werner story. Charles was the asshole who went back and charged Arthur with hiding his Phoenix secret & used this case to rise in the ranks to Extremely Upper Management. He defines the other type of worker. The guy who steps across people - even those he loves - to get what he wants. I did guess early on that Charles and Arthur had a romantic relationship. That Charles was the guy he knew from way back when.
What I did NOT guess was Arthur being the Phoenix. Ya'll I straight up thought - the moment Arthur mentioned "he knew a Phoenix once" - that it was Charles. That Charles did something dramatic and clipped his wings or something to get where he is in DICOMY. So I loved the Arthur - Linus - Torched Cellar chapter.
I also was about a 65 to 35 on Arthur and Linus developing a romantic-adjacent relationship. I say adjacent because c'mon ya'll - it was right near the end that they got the gumption to admit they liked each other. I think we can ALL agree that we were ALL #TeamZoe who straight up called Arthur and Linus out for not addressing their feelings for each other. I do wish that romance had been more developed, but frankly at the same time, I absolutely love that it was defined and grounded in their love for those children. It's a very adult relationship - not something based on pure physical attraction.
I also loved the final Helen & Zoe relationship. Never saw it coming. Love it. Hear for it. I'd like a side book or podcast on it. Great thanks.
Lastly, I absolutely adore how this book made me love these children. I am a married 30 year old with no kids, partially because I live in 650 sq. feet and partially because we waiting a bit for that while we do the career thing. I have always been open with folks that I don't feel motherly instincts. I have two beautiful fur babes who I would murder hell for, so I'm sure that will pass if and when we had kids, but I have a niece and I have close friends with kids, and I have more of a "Ah. You're here. You're cute I suppose" vibe.
So this book really made me think on this topic - children and how brilliant they are, how misunderstood they are, how they just want to be normal and have friends and be seen. These children are all different, all considered threats to "non-magical" people, and yet TJ Klune really does make you want these kids to be real and this island to be real so you can go and live with them and nurture them. Even Lucy - who every chapter summons hellfire and demons on Linus out of humor.
While a couple major points (mentioned above) - the Charles/Arthur/Linus relationship triangle and Linus moving back to the island - were predictable and I was considering rating the book a 4.5 of 5 stars. The visual imagery, the individual character traits of the children, the themes that span across age brackets make this book a solid 5 of 5 stars.
Also THAT PROLOGUE. Can we say - SEC. OND. NOV. EL. NOW! #Yeti
Also By TJ Klune: The Extraordinairies Drink Pairing: A Salty Dog (Gin + Grapefruit Juice + Salt + Grapfruit Garnish) “Humanity is so weird. If we’re not laughing, we’re crying or running for our lives because monsters are trying to eat us. And they don’t even have to be real monsters. They could be the ones we make up in our heads. Don’t you think that’s weird?”