When I started The House In The Cerulean Sea, I was just starting my new job. Such ironic timing.
The big hero of this book is a man named Linus Baker who started working for DICOMY when he was my age today. DICOMY is Department In Charge of Magical Youth. There’s also a DICOMA, for Magical Adults, but that’s a little outside Linus’ post. Most of his time in the day is in a cramped cubicle where he’s not allowed to have any decorations, filing and sorting paperwork and doing plenty of forced overtime. He has no one to come home to but a cat named Calliope who is not in any hurry to rub against him when he comes home from work. He also occasionally goes to orphanages as an inspector, making sure the children who have superpowers and are staying at DICOMY-controlled houses have owners both treating them well and keeping them contained.
One day, his devotion to the company and total honesty in his reports gets him assigned to a house way out in the country, and he reads that a six-year-old kid named Lucifer, or Lucy for short, is suspected to be the Antichrist, so this could be a potentially dangerous visit. He arrives to additionally meet a talking garden gnome, a young forest sprite, a timid teen who turns into a Pomeranian, a wyvern, a green blob who only wants to become a bellhop one day, and the caring and easygoing master of their house, Arthur Parnassus. Linus and Calliope are welcomed with open arms, and for the first time Linus gets to visit the ocean. And as he’s writing reports while in his off time persuaded into helping the children with their activities, he realizes there’s also a somber secret about the place, hidden from view but there somewhere.
Now, the description I just gave may make it sound like Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children with the point of view of a forty-year-old, but they’re really not the same story. Miss Peregrine is a thriller that explores a secret world, fascinating history, and fighting against people threatening to tear a home apart. The House In The Cerulean Sea is not any of those things, except maybe with sprinkles of the third one without the same threat level. In fact, I’d barely classify this book as a fantasy even though the company Linus works for has “Magical” in the name. Even if this is a world with people who have superpowers, Linus’ world has no sense of any magic and the book isn’t interested in exploring outside of his field of vision.
But you know what? That’s all okay. What this book is, rather than isn’t, is a story of a lonely man finding a new path for himself in a world that’s made him too scared and hypnotized in its taking-and-no-giving dynamics to venture out.
I can imagine hundreds of millions of people relating to Linus’ story. Wherever he lives, maybe there’s some kind of magical cold-hearted prankster who makes it rain a lot in his region. It pours almost all the time at his house during the duration of this novel, probably as a metaphor for being lost, or crying tears. Many people will relate to feeling lost in the world, like there has to be better ways to live but taking a gamble to do so may make you lose everything so it’s not worth the risk. The children, classified as abnormal by the society around their island, also have plights they have to endure, about adults being scared of them who teach their children the hate later on. More than once I choked up a bit thinking about the predicaments of the characters.
I heard in an interview TJ Klune wanted to compare the treatment of Arthur’s kids as discrimination against immigrants in orphanages. Some people have expressed slight anger at this, but the book’s messages are so pro-love, pro-trust and pro-multiculturalism that it wasn’t a problem for me, and judging by the praise I’ve heard of this book from so many people on the internet and in real life, enough people agree with that sentiment.
The House In The Cerulean Sea is not a fast-paced adventure and is a heavy sell for reluctant readers. A lot of the book is simply getting to know the children and the way they live their lives under Arthur, and so there isn’t always the focus of a conflict to keep the pages turning. And yet it believes so strongly in its messages and the small but universal self-discovery storyline that the experience of reading it is one you shan’t forget. Especially its eventual romance. It is superb at reminding us all that if we don’t have happiness in our lives, we need to head out and find it, and it will come. And that’s the book’s real magic.
If you like this, I’d try Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs