The House in the Cerulean Sea

Rating: 4 out of 5.
The House in the Cerulean Sea book cover

TJ Klune 2020

I’ve written a few discussion questions that may be helpful for your book group.

Maybe you’re living your life in color. It could be that you’re anticipating today’s interactions with pleasure: catching up with friends, having coffee with your spouse, meeting your parents or children for lunch, or just continuing a very engaging project at work.

Or maybe, like Linus Baker, your life is gray. You go about your daily activities without giving a lot of thought to enjoyment, and while you’re not particularly sad, neither are you happy or aware of any moments of joy. You contribute to society, but get no sense of satisfaction past the knowledge that you are supporting yourself and need no help from others.  Things could be worse.

Then one day, color bursts in and you realize that the home you’ve known most of your life is no home at all; it’s just where you are. Your real home invites, and it’s filled with light and love.

Just imagine.

Linus Baker experiences this in The House in the Cerulean Sea.  A civil servant who evaluates care homes for magical children, Linus toes the line every day, back bowed under the daily workload and the authoritarian rules of his employer, the DICOMY (Department in Charge of Magical Youth). In his 17-year career, he has not pursued promotions or extra assignments. His psyche has gradually assumed the shape and drab colors of the box into which he has been placed, but he does spare the occasional wistful glance at his mousepad, which bears the image of an ocean paradise and the phrase, “Don’t you wish you were here?” His heart always answers Yes.

As a result of his unflinching sense of duty and his record of non-rule-breaking, Linus is assigned a task which takes him to a house on a small island, not far from the shore of a beautiful blue sea. Color does, indeed, burst into his life as he meets Arthur Parnassus and the magical children in his charge, an odd assortment of mythical creatures. No spoilers here, but Linus must decide, in the end: is his home the little drab house where he’s lived for so long, with dead flowers in the front yard where it always rains? Or is Arthur his home? Arthur, the children, and the Cerulean Sea?

There’s nothing subtle about the story; the one secret that’s shared close the end of the book is such a non-secret that the author clearly meant for readers to figure it out.  The House in the Cerulean Sea is character-driven. (By the way, in spite of the lengths to which Klune goes to show us Linus’ character both before and after Linus meets Arthur, the fact that Linus is described as wearing “slacks” is really all I needed. Slacks. He wears something called slacks, in the 21stcentury.)

The book did not immediately sweep me into a world of magic from which I never wanted to return. However, by the end of the book, I was so affected by the premise of a human finding love and a true home, when he held no hope of the former and didn’t know he needed the latter, that I feel compelled to recommend this book to anyone who loves an unconventional love story featuring very unconventional people.

I found myself pondering, as I finished the book – what is my true home? To what place, state of mind, person, or group of people do I long to return forever, setting aside the trappings of my current life and stepping into a world of vivid color and light?

Or am I already there?

What about you?

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