The House on the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When I first heard about this book, it was presented to me like a book recommendation for those that like Harry Potter. This is not. I don’t even think they are in the same genre. But this book is good on its own merits. To be fair, I don’t think I would have actually picked up the book if not for this faulty recommendation and its gorgeous cover.
But on to the story.
The story is about a social worker who is part of the Department of Magical Youth. In this world, all sorts of magical creatures really exist, and in a recent past, new laws have begun an attempt to assimilate magical creatures into the society of humans. When a magical creature is a child, and has no family, they are sent to orphanages. It is the social worker’s job to determine if these orphanages are doing their job. If they aren’t, the orphanage is closed and the children are moved elsewhere.
Linus Baker is a 40 year old man who has been working as a social worker all of his adult life. He doesn’t make waves, does the best he can at his job, and is very much alone and lonely. His only companion is a cat who isn’t particularly friendly. His only fun is listening to old records at night.
The Extremely Upper Management decides one day to send Linus to a classified orphanage with the most problematic children. He is to live there a month, and at the end of that month, he is to make his assessment of whether it should stay open. He has, up to this point, managed to stay detached when making his observations, but this time is going to be different. This time, he will find love. He will understand acceptance. He will transform.
This book is beautiful. It’s all about acceptance, of yourself and others. It’s about using the privileges we are given in life to help those who are not privileged. It’s about the innocence of youth and seeing past the outer shell into the heart of a person.
My favorite relationships are that of Linus and each of the children. He reads their files at the beginning of his observations, seeing them as potentially quite dangerous to himself and others, but you see throughout the book that they are labeled concretely when there should be more nuance. The conversations between the Linus and the children are absolutely precious, showing both their problems and their innocence at the same time.
I didn’t know at the time that I received the book that the main character was queer and that there was a queer relationship in the book. I don’t know if I would have honestly picked up the book had I known. But most of what I had known about queer relationships before this book was quite different. The romance in this book is a slow burn, meaning that the romantic aspects of the relationship grow slowly and are not revealed until the end. You see glimpses of attraction, but they are more subtle.
Plus, it just further supported the character transformation that Linus goes through. He doesn’t come out of the other side as a socially acceptable version of himself. Instead, he learns how to accept himself despite what society says. Something the characters around him have had to learn to do.
In the end, I cried. The sweet relationships that develop and how much character growth Linus goes through in this story were just so emotionally overwhelming for me. In this climate, a sweet book like this is very needed. I understand if it may not be a book you would normally pick up, but if you give it a chance, the magic is well worth it. Even if it is nothing like Harry Potter.
There are a few words of profanity in the book. The children call him on it once which is exactly what children do. There are a couple of kisses mentioned, innuendo to more, but absolutely nothing graphic. For violent content, there is a mention of one child enduring physical abuse prior to his stay on the island, most of the children had endured some type of abuse, but nothing detailed. Also, Lucy (the child anti-Christ) says some pretty violent threats, but it is quickly understood that he uses them as a defense mechanism.