Recently, I celebrated my five-year anniversary of working at this most beautificent of public libraries, and despite having worked at the same place long enough my job experience is the equivalent age of a child found old enough to begin their official education… I must admit, I still feel like a little kid with a superhero-themed backpack tightened around their shoulders, shoes thoroughly velcroed, lunch accidentally forgotten at home and totally unprepared for the day ahead.
You could attribute that feeling of perpetual immaturity and bafflement regarding my own accomplishments to the dreaded Imposter Syndrome, but I’m going to blame something infinitely more nefarious. Something truly heinous. A fiend that I have been battling on a regular basis, ever since my first day of walking into the library, my eyes bright and metaphoric tail bushy. Who is this monster I am referring to, you might ask? Who is my arch-nemesis, my number one enemy, my greatest foe? The answer, if you know me and my reading tastes, won’t surprise you. It’s, gulp, the uplifting novel. Am I a terrible person for admitting I despise feel-good books?
My primary goal in reading, or consuming any kind of media, is to feel things, sure, but generally speaking those feelings involve crying with such violent enthusiasm that I flood my apartment with my own tears. (This is merely a figure of speech. Please don’t contact my landlord with any concerns you might have.) The point I am clumsily attempting to make is this: the books I tend to go for are, in no way, what you would classically consider “uplifting.” While I might consume an inordinate amount of romantic fiction, that’s not usually what people are referring to when they request a heart-warming, hopeful book as their next read. “Uplifting books” are the ones that feature plucky young female detectives, or likeable old men going on adventures, with dogs or other fluffy animals somehow being involved for those awww moments. These books are the equivalent of sugary sweet cereals purposefully designed to elevate your mood and I hate anything overly sweet, anything structured in a way where the creator clearly wants to cheer me up. This has made me notoriously terrible at recommending any books one might consider “hopeful.”
THOUGH THAT IS NOT THE CASE ANYMORE, MY FRIENDS, FOR I HAVE DISCOVERED SOMETHING POSITIVELY GLORIOUS.
T.J. Klune's first foray into more commercially published fiction, The House in the Cerulean Sea, is a book you can most certainly judge by its cover - the story is oversaturated with color, with whimsy, with an abundance of everything you might consider good. The plot involves a somewhat frumpy but immensely likable social worker at the Department in Charge of Magical Youth who is charged with visiting a mysterious island with six magical youths who may or may not bring about the apocalypse. Linus is a man who follows every rule in the book - he has them practically memorized - and regardless of his own secret hopes and dreams, he never steps out of line (until he inevitable does, that is, and it is spectacular). This is a character Neil Gaiman or Dianne Wynne Jones might have created, a world they easily could have built. Klune's imagination knows no bounds, making this novel an outrageously fun and feel-good romp.
What begins as a magical story of an ordinary man with an ordinary life and an ordinary job, is so much bigger and brighter and more wondrous than you could imagine. There are magical creatures and a bureaucrat with a heart of gold and ice cream parlors and golden oldies and indefatigable hope and limitless love and a sea so blue you'll wish you were there and buttons, so many buttons.
Reading The House in the Cerulean Sea reminded me of what it was like to open up a book as a child, and encounter a fantastical place within the pages that surprised me, delighted me, kept me awake late at night to discover more, more, more. I haven't felt this much uncomplicated joy in a long time. The world we live in can be dark, especially these days, but this story captures all of the light in the universe and holds it aloft, like a present you didn't know that you needed. I'm going to treasure this book, always, possibly hiding it underneath my couch, who knows. This one did make me cry, but in a good way. A really, really, really good way.
I've been getting this question more and more lately: Do you know of any books that are... hopeful? I've never known what to say, making me feel like a somewhat lackluster librarian, but now I won't hesitate to answer: Read this book. Do your spirits need a boost? Do you need something nice to hold onto? Read this book. Have some hope.
Books like this have the power to change the world. (Or at least your world.)
-Kimberly Lopez is a Readers' Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.