An absolutely fantastic book with shades of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Cover of The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

I don't normally compare books to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but stick with me here.  

I struggled with the beginning of this book.  It was dark and grey and gloomy.

It was only a few chapters in that I appreciated why the beginning needed to be written that way.  Once I got to Marsyas Island with Linus, I was hooked.  

Linus Baker's life is routine and dreary and he seems okay with that.  He is a caseworker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth in London and it's his job to make sure that orphanages are run well and that children are cared for.  He cares about the children in the orphanages he visits.  Just not too much.  The 947-page Rules and Regulations book doesn't allow that.  

One day, he is called by Extremely Upper Management - a terrifying prospect - where he is told that he's being sent to visit an unfamiliar orphanage on the coast.  

"The orphanage is nontraditional, and the six children who live there are different than anything else you've seen before, some more than others.  Some are...problematic."   

He will stay for a month and observe the children and their caretaker, Arthur Parnassus.  With not much information and a bit bewildered, he leaves the next day on a train with his suitcase and his cat, Caliope.  

It is only when he gets to the island that, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, he begins to see the world in color. He meets the children: 6-year old Lucy, or Lucifer; Chauncy, a green blob with eyes on stalks on the top of his head (I imagined a Shrek-like character); Talia, a gnome; Fee, a forest-sprite; Sal, a teenaged shape-shifter; and Theodore, a wyvern.

These kids are so wonderfully described!  It takes a writer with great imagination to describe Lucy as a six-year-old music-loving, kind, child who loves to tease about all the ways he could destroy the world.  Or Chauncy, of unknown parentage, who wants more than anything in the world to be a bellhop.  Or Sal, a shy teenager who changes into a Pomeranian when he's frightened.  Each of the children is well-developed in their own fantastic way, it makes you want to visit them!

Slowly, slowly, these children pull Linus out of his dreary world of expectations and into a world of laughter and Saturday adventures.  Which pits him against all the rules he was sent there to enforce.  

After many sweet fits and starts, Linus also realizes he is falling in love with Arthur, but this is too terrifying for him to confront.

This book will make you smile with the children, laugh out loud at their antics, and cheer when Linus realizes that a family can be anyone who loves you.

Read it.  Better yet, listen to it on Libby or Audible.  Daniel Henning has a different voice for everyone in the book and that adds so much to make these characters come to life!

  • Read my review of The Light in Hidden Places, a novel based on a true story of a young Polish girl who hid Jews in the same house as Nazis during World War II.

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