The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune—Adaptability Review

Over the course of my review hiatus, I watched a lot of shows and movies that I fully intend on catching up on with my reviews. I also read many fantastic books, and for my return to adaptability reviews, I decided to start with the novel that immediately made its way into my all-time favorites: The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune.

This light-hearted fantasy, LGBTQ+ romance has a wonderful ensemble of lovable characters and a heartwarming story that is sure to captivate. The House in the Cerulean Sea follows Linus Baker, a social worker for orphaned magical creatures, as he sent on a top secret assignment by Extremely Upper Management. Upon his arrival to the mysterious island of Marsyas, he soon discovers that he is in a bigger predicament than he signed up for: the orphanage is housing the Antichrist, a six-year old boy named Lucy. While investigating the children and their mysterious caretaker, Arthur Parnassus, Mr. Baker comes to find that family and home can come from unlikely places.

I’ve already said it, but it bears repeating: the cast of characters that Klune has managed to write are perfect in every way. Every single character in this book fills the pages with joy and wonder, and they are all so memorable. Not since I read the Harry Potter books as a child that I have fallen this hard for an entire novel’s cast. The children (Lucy and Sal in particular) all pull on your heartstrings and make your mood brighter. Arthur and Linus have phenomenal moments that make you feel empowered and loving and just make you want to be a better person. There is not a single flaw among Klune’s character work here.

Beyond my undying adoration for the character work, Klune also displays a mastery of all other aspects of storytelling. As soon as I finished the book, I immediately wanted to plunge back into this rich world he has created. The plotting and pacing of the story was beautifully timed and considered as it led to a “never want to put the book down” reading experience. However, the biggest non-character standout of this novel is T.J Klune’s voice. The way this book reads, there is a ton of quirk and quick wittedness. If Klune tried telling this story with any other tone/voice, this entire novel would’ve fell flat: the emotions that are drawn out of you wouldn’t have their punch, the dialogue would lose its dynamic comedy, and the charm of the story would be left without its defining characteristics.

I could sing praises for this personal favorite of mine all day, but the real question is, “is it adaptable for the screen?” This is actually a trickier question than you may expect. Obviously, looking at all the shows and movies that we’ve been blessed with recently, fantasy is a genre that studios are very hungry to make right now. That said, The House on the Cerulean Sea falls in a weird spot: there are no big action set pieces, it’s familial in nature but it is very mature in its themes, and it’s not the kind of fantasy that would attract a large box office. This story, while filled with magical creatures, is extremely small in scope, so I don’t know if a studio would put up the money to properly finance it.

If the quirky and lively tone from the book is replaced by a more serious director’s voice, I don’t see the adaptation going well. As I was reading it, there was one person who I’d want to see do it: this book would fit right in Taika Waititi’s (Jojo Rabbit (2019), Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)) wheelhouse. Taking Thor: Love and Thunder (2022) aside (definitely Waititi’s weakest film), the sense of quirk and heart he brings to his films perfectly aligns with Klune’s voice. I also think this story could lend itself extremely well to a hand-drawn animation style, but with how little Hollywood believes in this medium, I don’t see that ever happening.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J Klune quickly became one of my favorite books of all time, and I would highly recommend it to almost all readers of most ages (probably 12yo and up). I would absolutely love to see it adapted as a live action Taika Waititi type film or as 2D animation, but my only reservations are whether studios would be able to spend the necessary money on the project and whether Klune’s trademark voice is replaced. This phenomenal novel would adapt wonderfully for the screen, and here’s to hoping that one day we may see one.

Book Review: 5/5

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Adaptability: 4.5/5

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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