I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
Look, I know that 2020 has been a dumpster fire on a sinking ship that’s leaking used oil into an ocean of sludge, but it’s not all bad. After all, The House in the Cerulean Sea exists. This book smacked me in the face with emotion, but in a nice, soft way.
This book is, and I cannot stress this enough, SO CUTE.
Linus Baker is a fussy yet dedicated caseworker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He prides himself on his ability to remain impartial and professional. However, his comfortable but solitary existence is upended when upper management sends him on an incredibly classified investigation to an orphanage he’s never heard of. When he arrives, he learns the children who live there are some of the most unusual—and perhaps most dangerous—children he has ever had to work with. And then there’s the master of the orphanage, Arthur Parnassus, who is as enigmatic and intriguing as he is charming and kind. Linus fears not only this new situation, but his ability to remain unmoved by it all.
First, I adored the cast of characters. Linus is endearingly fastidious, while Arthur is protective and gentle and cool. The others, from Lucy and the other children, to Helen and Zoe, add layers to the story through the relationships they form with Linus and with each other. I even enjoyed the scenes featuring the minor characters like Ms. Klapper and Charles Werner. Everyone is distinctive in voice and behavior, and comprise a beautifully diverse cast. Also, special shoutout to Theodore, the cutest button-collecting dragon ever.
This plot isn’t exactly action-packed, but rather character focused. That said, this is not without vivid scenes, like the children’s adventures in the woods or the trip to the record store, and especially the conversation on the dock. And the magic, as varied and creative as the characters, is captivating.
I also loved the explorations of systemic discrimination. This story deals a lot with that as well as with internalized prejudice and the harsh treatment that foster children too-often face, but none of it is too intense. These difficult, heavy concepts are presented with sensitivity and, more than anything, hope. In the end, the message is that hate stems from a lack of knowledge, and can be defeated with information and understanding.
I could go on gushing about so many other things in this book, but it would quickly devolve into me just flailing and squealing out superlatives, so I will spare you that and wrap things up.
In the end, I loved this novel (as if you couldn’t tell). It is, in a word, sweet. To add words, it’s also enchanting and funny and wholesome and clever and touching. The characters are wonderfully written, with tons of personality and depth and flaws. The dialogue is pretty good overall, with several laugh out loud moments of delightful banter. The representation, in terms of race and sexuality and backgrounds, is excellent. The romance is adorable, the plot is a joy to experience, and the heart of the story is an uplifting message about family and acceptance, and finding a place you can genuinely call home. It made me smile so much, and I know I’ll reread this (probably quite soon)!
Overall rating: 9.5/10
The House in the Cerulean Sea was published back in March (yes, I know it’s October, so my copy is hardly an “advance” one anymore. Please don’t remind me how behind I am, as I am painfully aware).