The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

A story that will break your heart on one page and flood it with hope on the next.
The House in the Cerulean Sea book cover

Book of the Year 2020 (see all)

TJ Klune’s The House on the Cerulean Sea is a beautiful story. Not in an attractive or alluring sense, although those adjectives, too, are accurate, but in the way that it explores true beauty in the most unlikely of places. Klune explores the fear and prejudice that bubbles at the surface of society but delivers a message of hope and unity that people can change if you start with the few.

Linus Baker is a wallflower, barely noticed or respected by anyone. He is stodgy, a bit overweight, and reads his company’s Rules and Regulations manual during his free time. He is also desperately lonely but doesn’t seem to realize it. Seventeen years of his life has been dedicated to his career as a caseworker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. (“If You See Something, Say Something!” read the signs posted city-wide.)

Linus travels to different orphanages that house magical children with special needs and must evaluate whether the orphanage is being run properly, or if any of the children need to be placed elsewhere. What happens to the children once they move? What if the orphanage gets shut down? Well, that’s not Linus’ job to know. He trusts DICOMY implicitly to manage those affairs. But one assignment sends Linus to a place he never knew existed, meeting children of a different breed, so to speak, and caretakers that have bent all the rules he so loves.

These children are sadly scorned because of preconceived notions woven into our society’s collective consciousness (“If You See Something…”). Some of these children who differ from the others don’t know they’re supposed to be monsters until society tells them, over and over, that they are. What choice do they have? People fear what they don’t understand, and the unique appearances and exceptional powers of these lost souls are excuses enough to set boundaries of segregation that most do not want to cross.

While the journey of Linus’ self-discovery is projected from the start, the story is rife with wonderful, rich characters, earnest dialogue, honest relationships (some LBGTQ+), and enough heart to annihilate your tear ducts. Klune is a natural and gifted storyteller that delivers messages that are both timely and timeless, allowing me to live in his world through Linus’ eyes for just a few hundred pages.

And I want to go back.

This is a special book, a story that will break your heart on one page and flood it with hope on the next. In this dark and difficult time in which we are living, it is stories like these that help remind us what we’re doing this all for.

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