TJ Klune on his remarkable “The House in the Cerulean Sea”

Adrian Liang on March 30, 2020
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The House in the Cerulean Sea

Linus Baker, the protagonist of The House in the Cerulean Sea, has no magic. A caseworker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY), he investigates orphanages that care for magical youth to make sure that the children are safe. But he does everything completely by the book, and once he makes his recommendations about the children, the orphanages, or the people who run them, he doesn’t look back.

When Extremely Upper Management sends Linus on a top-secret trip to a “non-traditional” orphanage that houses six children of various abilities, Linus expects the monthlong investigation to be straightforward. But he soon learns better.

The Amazon Books editors named The House in the Cerulean Sea one of the best science fiction and fantasy books of the month for March 2020. Readers agree, giving this book an impressive average of 4.9 stars on more than 100 reviews as of the writing of this article.

I spoke by phone with TJ Klune about his novel, hope, kindness, and traveling outside your comfort zone.

Adrian Liang, Amazon Book Review:I thought your book The House in the Cerulean Sea was a lovely read. It’s full of magic, hope, even a bit of romance. But before we get to what’s inside the book, can you tell me about the cover? It’s very striking.

TJ Klune: It is, and full credit goes to Chris Sickels with Red Nose Studio. Initially the concept for the cover was sent to me as a drawing… so you really couldn’t tell what it was going to turn into. I was like, Okay, we’ll see how it goes. I had no idea that this amazing man didn’t do anything via computer. He built this entire thing as a model, including the sky, the background. Everything was handmade. And when I finally saw it for the first time, I was just knocked for a loop because I had never ever seen anything like it before. It’s tremendous. It’s absolutely beautiful, and I am so honored to be able to have this as my cover because literally it’s breathtaking.

I felt that it also did a great job representing what was inside. It’s whimsical and quirky but completely full of magic. When people ask you about The House in the Cerulean Sea, how do you describe it to them?

I describe it as a book of hope with all the queer characters anybody could ask for. This book is about kindness. It’s about what we can do to help each other. It’s about speaking up for those who can’t speak for themselves. What I hoped for everyone [who reads it] is that I wanted them to be able to get to the last page and breathe a sigh of happiness before they close the book. I think that if you have that moment, when you realize that, Hey, everything might be a little dark right now, but at least for right this second, I was able to have a moment of happiness— That’s all I could ever want for this book.

Linus, a caseworker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth (aka, DICOMY), is sent to investigate a top-secret orphanage on a remote island which has six magical children. There’s a great line that Linus says about one of the children, who turns out to be the son of Lucifer, which is: “He’s a child who came from darkness. That doesn’t have to be who he becomes.” That line, for me, captured a lot of what was going on in this book.

Linus at the very beginning doesn’t quite understand that things aren’t how they should be. He’s very much set in his ways. He is very, very much a stickler for the rules and regulations. It’s Linus who changes the most throughout the book.

While the children in the orphanage are very unusual magical children, Linus slowly realizes that he’s really supposed to be there to investigate the master of the orphanage, Arthur. Yet Arthur himself also needs to change his ways a little bit as well. He’s been afraid of sending the children out in the world. Can you tell me about Arthur?

Arthur does act as the master of the orphanage, but even from the very beginning I think that the reader can see he’s so much more than that, and he’s very protective. He knows how the world works. And it may be a flaw, but he wants to keep the children as safe as he possibly can, which is why he doesn’t leave the island with them.

Regardless of where they started out, [both Linus and Arthur are] essentially rooted in fear. Linus is rooted in fear of his job, because that’s all he knows. Arthur is rooted in fear because he knows how the world works for people like the children. So I needed Arthur to have someone that could act as a foil for him in order to make him see that while he did have the best intentions in mind, he may need to step outside of his own comfort zone in order to acclimatize the children to how the world could actually be.

In The House in the Cerulean Sea, the characters talk about how people are stuck in their bubbles, and people get very happy in their bubbles, and they don’t really want to puncture them very much. But once they do…

We’re trapped in our own bubbles that are rooted in our ideals and beliefs, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But I just think that we need to spend more time looking at the world around us than just what we know. [Laughs] I’m saying that now, with most of us quarantined in our houses.

I know; kind of ironic!

We’re all guilty of making snap judgments based upon past experiences. But in writing this book, not only did I want to set out to tell a story of hope and kindness, but it also sent me on my own little journey about my own biases and potential prejudices. So it helped me realize that you can’t be scared of what you don’t know.

I just want to say that I think as of right now, more than ever, we could all do with kindness. We could all do with hope, we could all do with something good, and that’s my biggest wish for this book. All I could ever ask for is that somebody would be able to just pick this up and be able to relax and take a breath and enjoy what they have.


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