“How can we fight prejudices if we do nothing to change it? If we allow it to fester, what’s the point?”
It’s official. I will read anything @tjklunebooks writes. ANYTHING!!!
This book. THIS BOOK!!! On the cover, @seananmcguire is quoted as saying, “This book is very close to perfect.” And YES!!! I laughed! I cried! Often on the same page. My heart broke and was repaired multiple times as I journeyed with Linus and the children of Marsyas Island. And just like in The Extraordinaries, all I want to do is hug every single character and give them hot chocolate with marshmallows and fight the world to protect them.
And this is what makes Klune fucking magical. His characters are all cinnamon roll balls of love and light. But they struggle with issues we can all relate to, no matter what their specific conflict is. Linus struggles with seeing himself for who he is, loving himself, accepting himself. He struggles with seeing the harshness of reality around him, accepting his bleak existence instead of daring to ask for more. How many of us have lived with that same feeling? That we have to accept life the way it is instead of pursuing more? Instead of dreaming for more?
“He’d learned early on in life that if he didn’t speak, people often forgot he was there or even existed.”
Klune then sprinkles more of his magic on the world at large. A world filled with magical humans who are required to register with the Department In Charge Of Magical Adults. And children with the corresponding Department In Charge Of Magical Youth––or DICOMY. This is where Linus works, evaluating whether the orphanages under DICOMY’s care are up to par and treat the children accordingly. But Linus lives and breathes the rules and regulations of DICOMY. He doesn’t look beyond his initial role, trusting the system has a process for a reason. He doesn’t ask questions, doesn’t get too close, keeping everything––including the children––at arms length. It makes him a perfect case worker to evaluate the extremely classified Marsyas Orphanage. At least, that’s what Extremely Upper Management thinks.
Back to the character magic. The children on the Island! I won’t go into their abilities, because that journey is delightful to go on, but these are the children considered the most dangerous in the magical community. They’re hidden away, left under the care of a ferociously protective Sprite and a patient headmaster. Linus may be the main character, Ms. Chapelwhite and Mr. Parnassus our guides, but the children are the heart of this book. They bounce off the page the same way children do in real life. It’s easy to forget this is a magical world, and that these children have abilities, that’s how vivid and realistic they are. Even when they’re being magical they are so alive.
“There was a stampede of feet behind Linus, some heavy, some sounding as if they were squelching. Linus jostled as they ran by him.”
It was impossible to not see parallels in what’s happening right now, in so many communities, with the discrimination and prejudice the magical world faces. Going on this journey with Linus, who was blind to his own role in the system, was a necessary one. And while Klune takes us through a litany of emotions, the progression of Linus’ journey is so natural, so endearing, so gut-punchingly tender, that it’s impossible to turn away. And this is, I think, the point. How many of us have felt the system was too big? Or that decisions were above our pay-grade or capabilities to provoke meaningful change? We don’t always intend to uphold a broken system, but we do. And learning to identify and understand that is the first step of many.
Klune doesn’t back away from these difficult conversations, even in this magical world, but he does show us how to find hope. He shows us change is possible. Not by dismantling the system with one hero, but through small changes. Through one case worker. One mayor. One record store owner. He shows us that change first happens in the hearts and minds of the few, spreading from there. But even more important than change, Klune shows us the power and importance of love.
“I allow him to dream of such things because he’s a child, and who knows what the future will bring? Change often starts with the smallest of whispers. Like-minded people building it up to a roar.”
The writing is whimsical, the characters are delightful, but don’t let that fool you from the very deep, very complex issues at the core of this book. The House In The Cerulean Sea is a book about magic, yes, but it’s also an allegory of the world we live in. A world where too many people pass the responsibility to the next pay-grade. Who don’t like discomfort and disruption, turning their heads or changing the channel rather than facing the horrors others can’t walk away from. It’s a book about how hard it is to face these hesitations inside ourselves but how it’s possible. Like I said, hope and love shine through every page.
Needless to say, this is a book I will be throwing at everyone, so get ready for yet more book shaped bruises. It’s accessible and even in the most heartbreaking moments, it is endearing and magical in all the best ways. Like young Phee shows us, we’ll find its roots planted deep within us by the end. This isn’t a story we can walk away from, and these aren’t characters we’re likely to forget. Discovering TJ Klune has brought me nothing but joy and I highly encourage everyone to read everything he publishes.