The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
Linus Baker is a solitary man, dedicated to his job. He does his job as a social worker for magical children, writes meticulous reports, and nothing more. So what if his life is a little empty? He has a cat, a house, and a steady income. So when he’s tapped for an extra-secret assignment to the middle of nowhere, he’s terrified. This is the most important—and dangerous—assignment of his life. But the danger isn’t the six children he’s assigned to assess, but himself.
I’m sobbing happy tears. Today was a shit day, and this book brought some light and joy into my life.
He couldn’t believe it was only Wednesday. And it was made worse when he realized it was actually Tuesday.
I think the magic of this book is that it captures the mundanity of the bureaucracy so perfectly, from the monotony of cubicle life to the grueling strain of aggressive middle management to the mystery of Extreme Upper Management to the horrifying consequences from the stroke of a pen, which all boiled down to an extreme disassociation from everything in order to cope.
Linus does his job and he cares for the children, but he doesn’t think about what happens after he leaves. Where do they go when he shuts the houses down? What is their future? What can their lives become?
He’s coping with the awfulness of his job by only thinking in the moment and never thinking any higher. It’s nose to the grindstone, 24/7, except for when he’s home in his grey house with his sad plants and awful neighbor and bitchy kitty.
Are you Mr Baker? If you are, we’ve been expecting you. If not, you’re trespassing, and you should leave before I bury you here in my garden. No one would ever know because the roots would eat your entrails and bones.” She frowned again. “I think. I’ve never buried anyone before. It would be a learning experience for the both of us.”
I think what made me love this story even more was that it was everything that Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was not. On the surface, the two books feel incredibly similar. Both are about strange magical children who live in an isolated house on an island with a strangely magical protector. However, this is where the similarities end. Where Miss Peregrine plays up the children’s oddness and capitalizes on creepy pictures and an ~aesthetic~, this story focuses on the children’s humanity, their humor, and their…childreness?
Childreness is not a word, but for all of their strange powers, the six children are children. Moreover, they are all foster children who are either orphans or have been ripped away from their families, and some have been abused and beaten and treated like animals. With Mr. Parnassus, they are finally experiencing what it is like to be loved and to be a child and to be part of a family. Sure, they’re a little morbid, but what kids aren’t?
Just because you don’t experience prejudice in your everyday doesn’t stop it from existing for the rest of us.
A big theme of the book is prejudice.
There’s a pretty heavy analogy of the systemic prejudice in this world and the one that is in our world—namely, the prejudices faced by marginalized communities and those faced by the magical community.
Running alongside the analogy (metaphor? Ugh I used to be so good at literary terms!) is the idea of complicity within the system. Linus is a literal cog of the system and does not see his own complicity to the complex bureaucracy of systemic prejudice the magical community faces, because he has removed himself from being able to see it through extreme disassociation.
Instead of fetishizing the children *cough fuck you Peregrine *cough cough* this book reveals the humanity in all of us, no matter how tentacly, featured, devilish or other we may appear to be. The only time we lose our humanity is when we try to rip the humanity from others.
Hate is loud, but I think you’ll learn it’s because it’s only a few people shouting, desperate to be heard. You might not ever be able to change their minds, but so long as you remember you’re not alone, you will overcome.
However, as he learns to feel again, he learns to see, and once he starts to feel and see he cannot stop. And he realizes that how these children are being treated is wrong, and that while they have experienced awful prejudice and sometimes attacks from the nearby villagefolk, they have experienced prejudice that is even more awful from him in his position as caseworker.
Anywho, much of the theme of the book is learning to break down prejudices through experience, an open mind, listening and active reflection. And, of course, the power of found family, love and friendship.
Oh, and there’s a hella gay slow-burn romance.
“Oh. I see. So the real treasure was the friendships we made along the way?”
“You guys are the worst,” Lucy muttered. “The literal worst.”