A gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, a green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist get sent to live in an orphanage on an island…
Sounds like the setup for a rather strange joke, but instead the punchline is a delightful, amusing, and surprisingly touching story about actually taking the time to notice and perhaps care for someone a little bit different.
Mr. Parnassus arched an eyebrow. “The world is a weird and wonderful place. Why must we try and explain it all away? For our personal satisfaction?”
The characters are what really make the book. In a nutshell, the story takes place in a fictionalized world where magical creatures exist, but are looked down upon, discriminated against, and outright hated by many. They’re bizarre and fantastically unique.
The gnome is a young girl–except young for a gnome is over a hundred and, because gnome, she’s tiny and has a beard. The spite is probably the least ‘different’ of the bunch, but has a lot of growing to do. The wyvern is completely non-human, but intelligent and a child just the same. The green blob–no one knows what he has, but he just wants to be a bellhop. The were… a pomeranian. Need I say more? And Lucy. Ooooh Lucy. Just read it. He’s a six year old with great and terrible thoughts in his head.
Linus (our main character, the literary ‘straight’ man; ironic that) has been working the same low level government job for almost two decades, doing what he believes the best he can do to help magical youth that have been given up or taken from their families and placed into various foster systems. Of course… no one wants to adopt someone ‘different’, so there’s a definite undercurrent of ‘eesh’ going on throughout it.
But then he’s sent out on a job to spend a month getting to know the oddball magical children on an island far removed from the general public, and perhaps gets to grow up a bit.
“And yet, here you are by the sea, far from your chair and home.” She stopped and turned her face toward the sky. “There’s music everywhere, Mr. Baker. You just have to learn to listen for it.”
All in all, I think at it’s heart, the entire idea is that we can try to be better. No matter how different someone is, they’re still a person–and in the end, that’s what really matters.
Linus choked on a hysterical laugh. “Oh, of course. Just a road made from the salt of the ocean. Why didn’t I think of that?”
“You didn’t know it was a possibility,” Arthur said quietly. “But those of us who dream of impossible things know just how far we can go when pushed to do so.”
“Well, then,” Linus said faintly. “Let’s see how they like us being pushed, shall we?”
I think the most negative thing I have to say about this story is that it tells the story of discrimination, racism, and injustice against minorities. Except it’s written by a white guy, who said:
I didn’t want to co-opt, you know, a history that wasn’t mine. I’m a cis white dude, so I can’t ever really go through something like what those children had to go through.
So I sat down and I was like, I’m just going to write this as a fantasy.
It’s a feel good story, but it could be so much more. The idea that ‘you just need someone in the system to help you out’ is disingenuous, won’t always/often happen, and could even be harmful.
That being said, I still strongly recommend this book. Even better, if you like audiobooks, give this one a try. The narration and in particular the voices for each of the children is delightful.