Book Review: The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Publisher Summary:

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. 

My Thoughts:

This book could not have come into my life at a more perfect time. I needed this book, this warm and fuzzy read about found family and courage and becoming who you really truly are inside. It was simply beautiful, and I wanted to hug it close, along with just about every character (but especially little Theodore the Wyvern).

I feel like this book has been talked about and talked about so much, and that I am one of the last people around to read it, so maybe I am not adding anything new to the conversation with this review. I still want to give my two cents though, and have the chance to wax rhapsodic over it too.

Linus is a rule follower, a pencil pusher, someone who doesn’t deviate from the path he is on. He does his duty, and he does it well. He does it with empathy yet at the same time, dispassionately. He lives a pretty lonely life, with his cat and his beloved records of golden oldies, but doesn’t seem too unhappy. More – resigned and somewhat…accepting that this is his life.

One day, out of the blue, he is called to the offices of Extremely Upper Management, which is a bit alarming for our quiet hero. He goes and learns that he has been chosen for a very special, very classified assignment, a Level 4 even. He is to travel to Marysas and observe the residents of the orphanage there, including the master, Arthur. He is to determine whether the children are safe and cared for and that Arthur is managing them all well. Because these are not just children – they are magical beings, level 4 magical beings, that could be considered dangerous. But whether the danger is from them, or to them, is something that Linus begins to question. I am getting ahead of myself here, sorry.

Linus arrives, slightly terrified, well, ok, super terrified, because one of the children is the Anti-Christ. The other children include a very powerful forest sprite, a female gnome (rare), a wyvern (very rare), a shapeshifter, and Chauncey, who defies classification. The island where the orphanage is located has its own sprite, Zoe, to round out the crew. Linus is determined to do his four weeks, remain objective, and write his weekly reports. Slowly though, he finds this to be more and more difficult, as he makes connections with the children, Zoe, and Arthur as well.

I loved this book. I loved Linus and his transformation. I loved the characters. I loved the beautiful writing of Klune. I just loved it all. I originally picked this up thinking it was middle grade; I was misled by some things I had read but now I know it is not. It is classified as adult but I could see young adult readers reading it. And I am not the only one who feels this book is ambiguous in its age group – check out this quote from an article I read.

THE HUB: This book defies classification! Published as an adult title, winning an Alex Award for YA crossover appeal, it could also easily fit on middle grades shelves next to Harry Potter or the Penderwicks or the Melendy quartet from Elizabeth Enright. Why do you think this book works across so many ages?

KLUNE: I think there’s something not only topical about the story, but also universal in its messaging. Fantasy is often filled with grimdark stories (absolutely nothing wrong with that!), and we don’t get to see a lot of “happy” fantasy these days. I wanted to write a story that reminded me of the cozy fantasies I read as a kid, books that not only made me happy, but allowed me to believe everything could be okay. Hope can often seem like it’s in short supply these days, and while a novel like The House in the Cerulean Sea won’t fix the world’s problems, I hope it can at least serve as a small reminder that we are capable of so much when we stand for what we believe in and lift each other up.

I choose to believe that a good number of people want to feel hope, especially over the last year we’ve all been through. And the idea of accepting differences and creating change through goodwill is something that people can believe in, no matter what age they are.

The book itself is endlessly quotable. I found myself scrabbling about in drawers and whatever was close at hand for pencils or pens, so that I could underline parts of the book that spoke to me. Parts like this one:

It’s that kind of book y’all.