The House in the Cerulean Sea

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The House in the Cerulean Sea Book Poster Image
Beautifully written tale of magic and transformation.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Arthur and Linus get into a debate about philosophers Kant and Schopenhauer. Pop music from the 1950s and the stories of its artists (e.g. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper, and the fact that Waylon Jennings should have been on that plane and died but let the Big Bopper have his seat) are an important thread in The House in the Cerulean Sea, often with a transforming impact on the lives of characters. The kids are getting a good education that also allows them to pursue their own interests and dreams, from the gnome girl who's mad for gardening to the sea-monsterish fellow obsessed with becoming the best bellhop the world has ever known.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of nurture (care, love, support, education) vs. nature (your genes and the labels people put on you because of them) as the determining force in who you become as a person. Lots about seeing and appreciating people for who they actually are rather than for some template they're supposed to fit. Also about using your gifts and talents for your own happiness and that of your loved ones; finding the courage to stand up for those who need your help, earning their trust and offering real protection.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The transformation of Linus from downtrodden, dutiful bureaucrat to unlikely hero by his growing love for Arthur and the kids is a treat to behold. Arthur rises above his own abused childhood and makes it his life's work to protect other vulnerable kids, as does Ms. Chapelwhite, the resident sprite. Some of the townspeople start out fearful of the kids and prejudiced against them, but come to better ways. The kids range from shy and terrified to brash and snarky (also fond of shock value), and thanks to Arthur's oversight are usually kind, creative, and inclined to look out for one another.

Violence

A kid knocks out an adult who attacks him in an "exorcism" attempt. For the most part, the kids are on the island because their various species -- including gnomes, sprites, shape-shifters, and wyverns -- have been massacred by humans to such an extent that the humans have set up an Orwellian bureaucracy to "protect" magical beings. In fact, there's growing evidence that far from being protected, magical beings of all ages are imprisoned, tortured, and killed, and Linus begins to suspect he hasn't exactly been sent to the island to look out for their well-being. Assorted young characters with unusual powers cause a lot of chaos and destruction, but also go to a lot of trouble not to harm anybody (even when uttering a steady stream of bloodcurdling threats).

Sex

An intense, long-awaited kiss between two middle-aged men, much to the delight of onlooking kids who've been doing lots of the awaiting, after a lot of refined sexual tension. One character "took what was offered" in response to another's invitation to his bedroom. As love begins to bloom, the protagonist  "lay awake, thinking of the way Arthur's hand had felt in his, the way they'd fit together. It was foolish, and most likely dangerous, but in the quiet darkness, there was no one who could take it away from him." Occasional innuendo, as in a discussion of garden shovels, as a kid character remarks, "It's not about the size, but what you do with it. Isn't that right, Mr.Baker?" An awkward moment as an adult incorrectly assumes a teen is masturbating behind closed doors, though he doesn't say so explicitly.

Language

An adult character calls another "daft little bitch." "Permanently injured, my arse," she adds. "Thank Christ," another says in response to a narrow escape.

Consumerism

Occasional scene-setting mentions of real British brands and references to '50s pop and rock artists and their music.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adult characters drink wine and other alcoholic beverages, not to excess. A record store clerk smells of weed and proudly says he grows his own.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The House in the Cerulean Sea is a fantasy novel by TJ Klune, aimed at an adult audience but finding many appreciative teen readers. Set in a world much like our own ('50s music plays a big role), it's the tale of Linus Baker, a downtrodden, dutiful middle-aged bureaucrat who's spent his entire career toiling for DICOMY (Department In Charge of Magical Youth), which, in theory, is the government agency in charge of protecting assorted gnomes, sprites, wyverns and the like from mistreatment, violence, and death at the hands of humans. Sent to report on a remote boarding school, its unusual master, and its even more unusual students (one of whom is believed to be the 6-year-old son of Satan), Linus soon learns there's quite a bit he hasn't been told. He also falls in love and discovers unsuspected depths of courage, loyalty, and tenacity in himself. There's some building, subtly expressed sexual tension between the two middle-aged male main characters, similarly subtle suggestive humor and innuendo on occasion, and they eventually share one kiss. The magical-being kids are being isolated from humans, who mostly want to kill them, and prejudice comes in for expert skewering. So does ambition when it interferes with kindness. While the kids have often been abused and terrorized in the past, and their powers are sometimes dramatic, no one comes to real harm in the story.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 17 and 18+-year-old Written bySionnon September 10, 2020
Teen, 14 years old Written byqueerfantasy7 September 12, 2020

Truly Amazing

This is an incredible, heartwarming fantasy that is now my favorite book of all time. It's so important to have accurate, positive queer representation in... Continue reading

What's the story?

Forty-year-old Linus Baker, career bureaucrat in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, is a gray, shriveled, downtrodden soul when his latest assignment from Extremely Upper Management sends him to THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA, aka Marsyas Island Orphanage. His task, in theory: look into the well-being of the orphanage's six young residents. In practice, it's more like assessing how dangerous they are, and taking a hard look at the methods of Arthur Parnassus, the headmaster. Linus faints dead away on reading the first file, belonging to Lucy (short for Lucifer), the 6-year-old reputed to be the child of Satan, but as time passes and he investigates further, he starts, for the first time, to question some of the things Extremely Upper Management has been telling him about these kids. Also, an attraction that cannot be denied is building between him and Arthur Parnassus, though he's doing his best to deny it.

Is it any good?

A downtrodden bureaucrat goes a remote island populated by magical kids and their mysterious teacher, where his heart begins to unshrivel in unexpected ways, which is a treat to see. As Linus's adventures at The House in the Cerulean Sea continue, both he and the reader are drawn into its world, delighted by its residents, and more and more inclined to doubt the prejudice that finds them so dangerous. In the following passage, he discovers an unconscious record store clerk, who's been (magically) thrown against the wall by the 6-year-old boy he tried to capture and exorcise:

"Linus glanced down at Marty again. He was breathing. He'd probably wake up with a headache and nothing more. Linus thought about giving him another bump on the head with a well-placed kick, but his shoulder hurt, and he had exerted enough energy for the time being. 'Did he hurt you?'

"Lucy looked up from the Chuck Berry record. 'Why do you sound like that?'

"'Like what?'

"'Like you're mad. Are you mad at me?' Lucy frowned. 'I didn't do anything, really.'

"'He didn't,' J-Bone said. 'Marty is so fired, you don't even know.'

"Linus shook his head. 'I could never be mad at you. Not for this. If I sound angry it's at this ... this man, not you.'

"'Oh. Because you like me, huh?'

"Yes. God help him, yes. Very much so."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the setup of of kids with unusual powers gathered together in an orphanage in The House in the Cerulean Sea. What do you think is the enduring appeal of this theme, which sometimes takes the shape of magical kids in a school? Who do you think does it best?

  • Linus isn't the first hero to be transformed by his experiences on an island. Why do you think so many such tales involve islands?

  • There's a lot of ignorant prejudice directed against the kids in this story. Do you see anything similar happening in your own day-to-day life?

Book details

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For kids who love magic and romance

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