Honestly, my 3 star rating is pretty generous because for majority of the book I was bored and not overly interested in reading it. But since it was the inaugural book for our newly formed Book Club I had to persevere. I don’t think that the book is bad or unreadable, not at all, but it’s not as perfect as the praise quote blurb says it is. Again, maybe it’s due to being significantly dead inside that made me not enjoy it or it’s just written in a style that I don’t like, but I’m not in love with the book. And that’s ok.
As I said, I get why people love the book. It’s a lovely story about a found family and six uniquely adorable children finding a safe space with a foster father, filled to the gills with heartwarming moments. However, that being said, I personally found the story and its characters to be very surface level, incredibly predictable, and lacking significant amounts of depth. It was as if every character had one trait or quirk about them and T.J. Klune just ran with it. The caseworker Linus was either defined by his following of rules, reminding me a lot of the housekeeper in Cinderella 2 (it simply isn’t done!), or by being an overweight man. And sputtering; can’t forget the sputtering. And the kids all felt like quirky little gimmicks rather than actual developed characters, serving to be comedic relief more often than not. Some might find it cute and endearing but I just got tired after a while. It’s the same jokes, the same traits, the same gimmicks over and over again and it made me very uninterested. I will say that the only character that appeared to have actual depth was Sal, and perhaps this would’ve been a more beneficial story if it revolved around him rather than a sweaty 40 year old bald man, but what can you do.
As for the writing, it wasn’t wholly terrible but it also wasn’t for me. While I enjoy dry and humorous writing styles here and there, you get to a point where it feels very much like “I’m not like other books” in the same way you’d find a female character written in the early 00s being “not like other girls“. I appreciated it being in third person, but I just couldn’t invest or connect with it. Like the characters, it was also quite surface level, committing far too much telling and not showing. When it came to the thematic elements and overall messages of the story, there was no subtly about what the story was meant to tell you. And that’s because every conversation was turned into a teaching moment where the purpose of the book was blatantly laid out for you. It was like the characters couldn’t have a simple, mundane conversation without it turning into some kind of preachy after school special about the wrongness of bigotry, prejudice, and lessons of self-acceptance. Of course these messages are important, that’s not what I’m saying, but it got to the point where it either felt preachy or that I as a reader wasn’t thought of as being smart enough to find these messages on my own, making it a rather irritating reading experience. Like most of the story, it was good for a while but due to its repetitive nature it got old really fast.
I think a major problem with this, other than what I’ve already said, is that it’s a contemporary fantasy and I think unless you do it really well, you’re not going to end up with a good thing on your hands. Rather than being a smooth mesh of the two genres, it was more like a contemporary story with fantasy elements sticking out like sore thumbs. It was like Klune couldn’t decide what world he wanted this story to live in to the point where little to no effort went into defining it. What kind of world is this story set in? Is it current day? Is it the late 20th century? Why are there magical children, but no word of magical adults? Why are they such an anomaly? I feel like a contemporary story doesn’t quite need to have answers for these questions, but a fantasy does and there wasn’t much effort made in to actually answering those questions. At least I didn’t see it that way. Some might be happy with the lack of world building and lack of answers, which contemporaries can easily get away with, but any story with a fantasy elements needs you to commit. And I saw very little commitment.
I also constantly forget that there was supposed to be a romance element to this story between Linus and Arthur and that’s because, like most of the book, it’s incredibly underdeveloped and not overly well written. I’m sure there’s chemistry there but it never felt like they spent enough time together talking about simply each other, getting to know one another, and building some kind of relationship. It’s insta-love yet not, because they don’t spend enough time together alone to merit any kind of love. But it’s there, apparently. If anything, it felt more like an after thought or last minute plot addition instead of a driving character point.
In my opinion, this book is fine. I see the audience it was meant for, the people it was written for, but it’s simply not a style that works for me. I’m not upset that I read it, nor do I think it’s terrible, and I did end up finishing it so that should say a lot. But it’s not a story that makes me want to seek out more stories from the author. What’s important is that it does make others feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside after reading it and I love that for those people, and I can see this being a constant comfort reread for them, too. It’s just not particularly for me.
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 orphanages.
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.