Linus is a caseworker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He visits orphanages to make sure everything is in order and that the kids who are staying there are doing ok. His life is monotonous and drab, bureaucratic even. One day, he gets a special assignment by the Department’s Extremely Upper Management. He gets sent to the island of Marsyas, where the orphanage there is home to some very special kids who are cared for by a very special man.
One third into The House in the Cerulean Sea, my thoughts went something like this:
If I had read this book when I was a teen or young adult, I would have loved it. My heart would have bled for those kids. I used to work with kids like that! (Well maybe not exactly like that) But I am neither a teen or a young adult anymore. This is way too syrupy and I’m a cynical person.
Two thirds into the book, my thoughts went something like this:
Yeah ok so maybe I’m not as cynical as I thought.
After finishing the book, I only felt half-cynical.
There are many things I loved about The House in the Cerulean Sea. I loved the description of all the settings but especially the village. For some reason, I imagined this to be taking place first in London and then some quaint seaside place in the south of England. Linus and his constant “Oh dear” exclamations reinforced my impression although I know the author is American. I loved Lucy’s and Talia’s characters and they brought some Terry Pratchett humour to the book. Young readers who are struggling with their identity, for whatever reason, may find that this book has a positive impact as it sends a very important message. So I can definitely see the appeal and understand why it has such a high rating on Goodreads.
However, for me, as the cynical middle-aged woman that I am, it was no more profound than comfort food. Nothing wrong with comfort food! But as sweet and pretty The House in the Cerulean Sea was, it will not have a great impact on my life. Yes, the message about acceptance is crucial; yes, it is also a very hopeful message. However, love and hope are not enough to deal with systemic injustices, and unfortunately the book only touches lightly upon those. So, while the young me would have rejoiced that there is a book out there that celebrates diversity, the middle-aged adult me wishes it packed more of a punch. But then again I don’t think I am the intended audience. I also think that (most of) the adults who read and love this book are very aware of the fact that love and hope are not enough, but they embrace the book because of its many virtues, because it is a ray of sunshine that breaks through the dark clouds, because it makes you wish there actually was a Marsyas island to go and live on and we could all do with an escape from the hellfire we’re currently living in.
I get it. The House in the Cerulean Sea was definitely worth reading and enjoyable. I would recommend it to others. But a little too sweet for my taste.