Updated: May 14, 2021
By Britta Kuhn
(Source: Britta Kuhn Photography)
“Hate is loud, but I think you'll learn it's because it's only a few people shouting, desperate to be heard. You might not ever be able to change their minds, but so long as you remember you're not alone, you will overcome.”
Y’all, let’s talk about my favorite book of this year so far. In fact, “The House in the Cerulean Sea,” written by TJ Klune and published by TOR in 2020, might be one of my favorite books of all time. Synopsis: Linus Baker lives a simple, solitary life with his sassy cat, old music, and job as a case worker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He prides himself on being by-the-book as he inspects the orphanages that house magical children, writes his unbiased reports, and goes home alone at the end of each day, usually trudging through the rain. Linus aspires to little more than this, even if his imagination occasionally wanders to white sandy beaches. His solitary bubble is popped when Extremely Upper Management sends him to inspect an orphanage on a remote island that is home to the most highly classified, extraordinary, and dangerous magical children and their charismatic caretaker. His task is to gather as much information as he can about each of them, while remaining objective and emotionally distant, so the powers that be can make a decision about keeping this peculiar orphanage operational. “The House in the Cerulean Sea” was everything to me—magical, funny, touching, and, at times, heartbreaking. The plot is fairly simple, yes, but it leaves room for the world building, the queer romance, and the characters to shine. Being between the pages of this book felt like being hugged by a loved one for a long time while you laugh and cry and feel your emotions. I was left sobbing over a button. A button, y’all!
Klune masterfully crafts a magical world and vivid characters with beautiful arcs. Arthur Pernassus, the master of the orphanage, and his wards form a unique family. They’re as colorful as Linus is dull, and this dynamic moves the plot forward with many moments of levity and comedy. The relationships between Linus, Arthur, and the children are complex, and each is unique. Despite trying to maintain his emotional walls, the children each encourage Linus to open up in their own way, allowing him to find the extraordinary in his ordinariness. He, in turn, helps them grow and change as they face hate, prejudice, and trauma. As they wedged their way into each other’s hearts, they wedged their way into mine.
I was particularly fond of Lucy, the anti-Christ, and his imagination, courage, humor, and pain. He had an ability to inspire loyalty and love in everyone around him, despite being born “evil.” I also developed a soft spot for Chauncey. He’s best described as a green blob with tentacles whose dearest wish is to become a bellhop (provided if society ever accepts someone like him in their world). Chauncey goes after his goal with optimistic tenacity even when all the odds are stacked against him. “The House in the Cerulean Sea” is as much a story about discrimination and ignorant compliance as it is about love. The part that affected me the most was when Arthur, Linus, and Zoe take the children off the island and into the neighboring town for the first time. In those pages, I experienced so much anger at the willful prejudice in some of the townspeople’s hearts. However, I also felt so much joy as the children remained fiercely loyal to one another with only a few good people showing them kindness. In the face of hate, these misfits found love and acceptance in each other and in unexpected places.
Although a fantastical work of fiction, the events and attitudes found in “Cerulean Sea” reflect those of the real world. It left me hopeful that our society can change (albeit rather slowly) if we all take steps toward standing up for what is right and good, while proactively easing hate and fear from our hearts.
About the Author:
TJ Klune is a New York Times Bestselling author, Lambda Literary Award-winning author (Into This River I Drown) and an ex-claims examiner for an insurance company. His novels include the Green Creek series, The House in the Cerulean Sea, Under the Whispering Door, and The Extraordinaries. Being queer himself, TJ believes it's important—now more than ever—to have accurate, positive, queer representation in stories.
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