Book Review: “The House in the Cerulean Sea” by TJ Klune

I really, really wanted to love this book.

You’ve got no idea how much it pains me to write those words. I loved this book. It’s got everything I wanted – mysterious children (reminds me a little bit of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children), unsatisfied office drone worker (Stardew Valley), and the “found family” trope. I’ve been on the waiting list for this book for over seven months (my local library system apparently only bought one e-book copy, and I had to wait for 63 other people to borrow it before I had my shot at it). I loved every second of the book, and wanted there to be more!

However, while doing some extra research on GoodReads, I found some reviews that made my skin crawl regarding this book.

At the time of this writing, it’s August of 2021. The bones of hundreds of indigenous children are being found on Catholic school grounds in Canada (although I’m sure that number is really in the thousands, if not ten thousands, and it also happened in America). There have been tears and relief from the tribes whose children have been missing for decades. (The last of these schools closed in the 90s, so it’s not as distantly removed from us as we’d like to pretend it is.) And TJ Klune decided to take Canada’s “60s Scoop” (where indigenous children were taken from their parents and put into state-sanctioned orphanages) and turn it into a fantasy story with a happy ending.

“I didn’t want to co-opt, you know, a history that wasn’t mine. I’m a cis white dude, so I can’t ever really go through something like what those children had to go through.

So I sat down and I was like, I’m just going to write this as a fantasy.”

Podcast Source

There are two reviews on GoodReads that I read thoroughly before sitting down to write this review, and I encourage you to read both of these as well to get some more information.

Kas’s Review

Cossette’s Review

There’s also the fact that Linus, the main character, has worked at the DICOMY for seventeen years, doing the same thing every single time he’s sent out on assignment (i.e., investigating the orphanages and deciding whether they should be allowed to remain open), and yet he has never once thought about what happens to the children if the orphanages close. It’s not until he falls in love with someone that he realizes, “Wait, this might actually be a bad thing.”

Baddie GIF by Giphy QA

The ending gives the reader hope, but while overall, I thought it was a very cute book (and I’d love to see more books of this sort; I feel like Miss Peregrine started it all, but I’ve heard that a lot of the later books in that series weren’t worth reading), that doesn’t make up for the fact that Klune literally read a Wikipedia article about indigenous trauma and decided to turn it into a feel-good fantasy story. You could have just kept that to yourself, dude.

I don’t feel comfortable giving this book a rating, but I’ll let you read this one for yourself. If you like the tropes that I mentioned at the beginning and the whole “profiteering off something horrible” doesn’t make you pause, I’d say go ahead and give this a shot. Just maybe borrow it from the library instead of giving the author money for this book. (Seriously, if someone said “Oh, I learned about the Holocaust but decided to make it fantastical and then give it a feel-good ending,” there would have been protestors in droves.)

What did you think about this book? Does finding out about the dark history behind the book give you pause? Let me know in the comments

And as always, keep reading.

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