Finding Empathy in The House on the Cerulean Sea.

Review:

The House in the Cerulean Sea

By T.J. Klune

Rating: 5/5

Genre: Speculative Fiction

QUILTBAG Main Character: Yes

QUILTBAG Minor Character: Yes

POC Main Character: No

Bechdel Test: Yes

Summary: Linus Baker is a simple man. At forty, his life consists of his temperamental cat, a far too noisy neighbor, and being a Caseworker for The Department in Care of Magical Youth. He has never aspired to much which is why he is shocked to be called in by Extremely Upper Management. Now Linus finds a case unlike any other: check in on six extremely unusual magical children. When he arrives on the island, nothing is at all like he expected, and Linus starts to question everything about what he believes and what the world tells him to believe.

Let’s Get A Little Deep:

So if you’ve read my reviews so far (if so, thank you! If not, welcome!), then you likely know a good bit about my taste in literature. I like revenge stories and books with rich, detailed characters, and maybe some horror in the mix as a treat. But one thing that frequently links my favorite stories is that they are all about thinking about others complexly. While most of the books I’ve read include aspects of this theme, for The House in the Cerulean Sea, that is the central theme. 

The world of THitCS is one full of children with extraordinary abilities. These children are taken to “orphanages” where they are heavily watched over. Maybe some of them are adopted, but the rest of them age out of the system and stop being Linus’s problem. While Linus cares that the children are safe and cared for, he has never looked too closely at the system or how it fails these children both in their childhood and into adulthood.

Throughout the course the novel, Linus and the readers begin to see the humanity in these children. His fear of their otherness blooms into care and compassion. He learns how afraid they are — how brave, how hopeful, and how lonely. Unsurprisingly, this also leads Linus to see how much his own internal emotions mirrors those of the children he has been sent to check in on.

Which is what makes novels like these so important. Imagining other people complexly, particularly those with lives very unlike our own, is what brings empathy. When we see others as human, it becomes impossible to not want justice for them, to not seek to change the laws that hold them captive.

THitCS shows us children who are hated sorely because they are not understood, because their government has systematically moved to disenfranchise them and turn communities against them. If this sounds familiar, that is because this still happens to marginalized groups including people of color and those in the LGBTQUIA community. 

As the readers grow to love the children in the novel, it leads them to think about children in the real world who may also need our compassion. This novel asks you to reassess the things you’ve been told and to instead find the beauty in those around you. It calls you to action as it calls Linus to action. Empathy, author Klune says, is worth little without action. 

The warm embrace of this novel leads you to action with wit and humor. It is a warm hug of a novel that also tells you to do better. It is exactly the kind of novel that we need now.

Thanks for going a little deep with me! I post reviews every other Thursday. Did you love The House in the Cerulean Sea? Leave a comment telling which of the six children you would adopt. You can also find me on Twitter @gwasserst! Special thanks to Yasi (@yasaminnb) for editing my posts.

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