I have long been skeptical of cozy reads. If they’re so cozy, so feel good, what are the stakes? What’s going to make me care? Especially when it comes to a book like Cerulean, which is written with an almost childlike whimsicality and which absolutely bashes you over the head with character development. But Cerulean is self-aware: it knows that it isn’t going for subtlety, and in so doing it accomplishes the one thing not all books do: it believes so naturally in the world it creates that the reader does, too. It’s an incredibly successful conceit. It’s also one of the sweetest books I’ve ever managed to read.
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.
Linus Baker, You Wonderful Man
I have not encountered such a blatant everyman in a long time. As a result, it took me a little while to see the beautiful soul of this man, even though the author was practically shouting it at us from the very first scene. Linus’ character is self-conscious, dull, and kind of unhappy. But he is one of the most genuinely loving characters I have read in a long time.
One of the most special things about this novel is that it reminds the reader that they can love like that, too. That tenderness such as dear Linus possesses is something to be cherished. That it is something hard to find.
In fact, all Linus does is love. He falls, quite sweetly, in love with the head of the orphanage he is assigned to investigate. He falls in love with its children. He falls in love with its island. He falls in love with himself.
And I think that even adults need to be reminded, every once in a while, even in so heavyhanded and pedantic a manner as this, that happy families, especially found families, can exist. Yes, Cerulean is a heady escape into a beautiful world, full of gentle blue vistas and warm cookies. But it is not so absurd or so optimistic that it lost my respect. Quite the opposite—its absurdity charmed me, as it charmed Linus himself.
Especially for those who have recently read novels that break you—I’m looking at you, R.F. Kuang, Hanya Yanagihara, and Madeline Miller—this novel is a beautiful way to gently bring your soul back to life.
My Head has been Hit!
All that said, the lessons are very obvious. I often skimmed or at least rolled my eyes (when listening as an audiobook, which is also lovely) as we slogged through more of Linus being unsure, more of Linus’ realizations, more bloviating about the nature of prejudice.
As an American—and probably as a citizen of the world in general—I know what prejudice is. I do not need to be told about it as if I am a child in a novel for adults. The general contours of all the Bad Guys in the novel were so clear from the beginning that these sections had a bit of the feel of dragging a heavy piece of furniture behind me as I tried to read about these awesome kids falling in love with these awesome dads.
In my opinion, more aggressive cutting would have made this novel perfect. However, I can understand that for some, that measured pace can be effective. To boot, Linus is the sort who needs to be hit over the head with a lesson before he can truly understand it. I suppose Talia had the right idea when she went on about bashing him over the head with her shovels…