A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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 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?
- Author: T.J. Klune
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Tor Books
- Publication date: March 17, 2020
- Number of pages: 400
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Award: ALA Best and Notable Books
- Last updated: January 25, 2021
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