Book Review: The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
Title: The House in the Cerulean Sea
Author: T.J. Klune
Released: March 17, 2020 (Hardcover)
Description: A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.
Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanges.
When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.
But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.
An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place – and realizing that family is yours.
Please keep in mind that this review contains spoilers for the entire book. Read with caution. If you click the “Read More”, it is under the assumption you either don’t care about spoilers or you’ve already read the book.
Someone once said that life consists of a lot of little moments put together. Some can read that as whimsical and some can interpret that as the little regrets along the way. The one thing that is true is that Linus Baker has many moments of whimsy and many moments of regret.
From the cover of the book to the last period in this book, this book is whimsical to be sure. If Linus wasn’t as up there in age, this could easily be a young adult or even a middle grade. And I say that because the kids of this book stole the show. This book does take the point of view of Linus and his thoughts and feelings of a dreary life he lived before he arrived on this island; the kids, however, as soon as they are introduced as quickly as your attention is taken away. This book is extremely touching and, especially if you love kids, you will enjoy this book.
However, and this is just one of the two main issues I have with it, this book is very much from the point of view of someone in a powerful position. He can sign off on a report and the home can and will be closed down and he wouldn’t be any wiser. This can and often does come across as a white (human?) savior story. It is an unintentional effect of this type of this story telling as it took someone who had privilege and learns about the “others” – which are the kids and other magical beings whose feelings are justified in not trusting him right away. This is a lesson in “how to be an ally” and how to enact change almost miraculously.
The other issue is that while I did love the kids, there was unfortunately not enough room for the other adults to develop (Arthur, Zoe, Helen, and others) much less the relationship between Arthur and Linus. There were really nice moments between them but the kids, again, stole the show, focus, and development. The secret that Arthur is a phoenix doesn’t really come as a shock to me as there were a lot of hints along the way.
But… I mention these things because the core of the story isn’t really about Linus or about the relationship between him and the Department In Charge Of Magical Youth or even his relationship with the kids. The author put his all into developing these kids and to connect the reader with them the most. And he’s extremely successful at that too because I absolutely adore all of the kids! I think most people who read this had picked their favorite kid and I’m really torn between Phee, Lucy, and Sal. They are so wonderful and sweet in their ways and the ways they helped change Linus, I really just wanted to reach in and hug all of them (but especially my favorites).
The fact that the kids stole the show should’ve made me drop a star. The fact this is a white (human?) savior story should’ve also made me drop a star. By all accounts, this should’ve been a three-star book.
But it’s not.
And the reason for that is because of how well-crafted the kids are written. The story is very whimsical as the adventures the kids go on. It’s as wise as the lessons Zoe gives Phee. It has heart and without love, it cannot be seen. That’s another lesson. Whenever this lesson creeps up on me in stories, I found that it makes the story shine even brighter. At the end of the day, Linus needed to fall in love with the kids in order to see them as them and not what they were. While the white (human?) savior stuff might understandably bother some people, I can excuse this on the basis that Linus wanted them to see the kids for who they are and had to be their voice for Extremely Upper Management. He had to be someone they can listen to and actually feel threatened by, and that’s the unfortunate truth.
There is a lot of love woven into this story and it’s very much a character driven study. A lot of thought is put into each fragmented sentence and each moment of misery and charm he attempts to ignore. This could also bore someone who is looking for some action than the thoughts and experiences of someone learning what it’s like for magical beings.
Little moments built up in this book where Linus eventually fell in love with both Arthur and the kids. And it’s these little moments that had me fall in love with this book. It was extremely hard to put this book down since I wanted to know what happened to them. I wanted these kids to be as safe as Linus did and realized. I would absolutely recommend this book if you want to cry and get attached to kids. While there might be some white (human?) savior elements that could rub BIPOC and other minority readers, it is a powerful story about learning about our own prejudices and why we need to love in order to see others for who they are.
This is a charming book and I would absolutely visit this house in the cerulean sea.