I finally got around to reading one of the most talked about books of 2020, and before I get into my review of TJ Klune’s The House in the Cerulean Sea (TOR 2020), I want to briefly touch on the problematic aspects of the novel, or as is the case, of the author.
During an interview for the novel, Klune stated that Canada’s residential schools inspired him. In particular, he was inspired by a cultural genocide called the “Sixties Scoop.” From the 1960s until the 1980s, Canada sanctioned the theft of indigenous children from their families and placed in them in “orphanages” where they were forced to assimilate, denied their identities, and often adopted out to white families. These children suffered extreme abuse, and many were murdered and forever lost. This factual framework in a not-so-distant history served as the inspiration for Klune’s orphanages and the Department in Charge of Magical Youth’s policies. Fiction frequently pulls from history, and I take no issue with Klune using Canada’s tainted history as inspiration. Where I take issue is in Klune’s complete and utter failure to acknowledge and give voice to the history in the actual work – the acknowledgements were painfully devoid of any reference to the residential schools or cultural genocide. He did, however, use it as a marketing tool. That simply doesn’t sit right with me.
That said, this is one of the most exquisite love stories I’ve ever read. It’s quirky and quaint, silly and sweet, and extraordinary. It’s perfectly paced, beautifully crafted, and the characters are absolutely delightful. All of them. Even Merle. It’s a Hallmark movie meets Umbrella Academy of a rainbow love story, and I let every word settle on me like a hug.
Most of y’all know the plot – Linus, a caseworker, is sent to an orphanage to investigate if the home should remain open. It’s a classified assignment because it’s a classified home. The children (including Lucy, the son of Satan) are the most magical of magical youth, and the master, Arthur, is another enigma. They slowly break down the rigid walls Linus has built around his heart, leaving him wondering about the life he’s led for the past 17 years and the life he could have.
The novel is about kindness, acceptance, love, hope, and what family means. And it’s a reminder of the magic that we all have inside of us. I just hope the world remembers that many of the children who served as inspiration never had a happily after all.
Read this book, love this book, but don’t forget the atrocities that served as its inspiration.