The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune


Content/Trigger Warnings: References/framework to Residential Schools, trauma/PTSD, child abuse (in the past), bigotry (towards magical creatures, but in reference to BIPOC of modern day), verbal & mental abuse (in the past), displacement, references to colonization, fatphobia (internal and external), dieting, toxic work relationships/environment

“Your voice is a weapon. Never forget that.”

Whew, I don’t know where to begin with this review. I’ve typed this review and then deleted it so many times, I have so many save files on different ways I’ve typed this review out, asking myself if this will be the first book I refuse to write a review for or if my voice is even worth voicing and wondering if anyone is going to listen to an Indigenous voice, debating whether or not to talk about my love for this book, but also the great discomfort I’ve felt around this book. It wouldn’t be the first book to make me think or feel like that. For starters, let’s address the fact that there’s a lot of genre based books out there that pull from real events or historical things that have happened or are currently happening. Sci-Fi and fantasy are notorious for doing this, as well as contemporary. This is nothing new and it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. I’ll also point out that it shouldn’t surprise anyone that non-Indigenous people constantly pull from Indigenous trauma/suffering and never the good or things that should be celebrated with Indigenous communities. This is nothing new. With that out of the way, let’s address the elephant in the room. Yes. YES, I’ve read the inspiration interview and YES, I listened to the podcast as well. After the fact that I read this book. Thank you to the kind person who reached out to me with these sources. And yes, I have a big mixture of feelings about these interviews and now about this book. Honestly, the best thing I can do with this review is be as honest as I can about how I feel, not just as a reader, but as an Apache person.

Our story follows Linus Baker, a case worker for The Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He lives a comfy life of working his job, going home listening to his favorite records, and of course, trying to stop his cat Calliope from causing havoc. However, Linus’s life is about to change when Extremely Upper Management summons him and gives him a class 4 assignment. Linus’s is about to have his whole world turned upside down and maybe he might just find the place he belongs along the way.

Let me begin by saying that I truly loved the characters of this book. More specifically Arthur, Zoey, and all the children of Marsyas. I loved the way each character for their own uniqueness, how detailed each one was, and how they have their own story to tell. I love characters that have a lot to them. You know the kind, the kind of characters that have layers upon layers to discover. I mentioned before, but I truly believe Sal and Theodore were my favorite children, though I loved each of them so very dearly. Arthur was a mystery, but when we get to learn more about him, a piece of me broke and I truly love the slow build to learn more about him. Our main character was different for me. It took me longer to warm up to him. At times, Linus reminded me of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory or Paul Blart from Mall Cop. However, majority of the time it felt like his whole identity and characteristics revolved around his job. It was hard to have a connection with him sometimes because his character seemed to cling so tightly to his career and just lacked compassion, and open-mindedness.

Of course, I have to talk about the theme of found family. Found family is one of those topics that I really enjoy in books. Which, surprise, was one of the reasons why I took such a interest in this book in the first place. It was one of the themes that many fellow readers preached to me when I asked about this book. To be fair, there is a theme of found family and I did enjoy the build of how the main character fell in love with this found family. I always find it really beautiful to watch a main character fall in love with a found family or find their found family. Yet, I do have my issues with this especially when Arthur is constantly referenced as the master of the orphanage. It just doesn’t sit well with me and I don’t think it ever will. I think I would have preferred if Arthur was referred to as the head of the orphanage, but that seems off as well.

And the writing is really beautiful. I found myself really enjoying it and with many fantasy books, of course I was power reading through this book. The pace is kind of fast and easy to breeze through. Also, the audiobook was wonderfully done. The narrator of the audiobook did a fantastic job bringing to life the characters from within.

However, despite the beautiful writing, wonderfully detailed characters, quotes upon quotes, and the found family theme… I had a lot of discomfort with this book. And let me state this, I have seen many non-Indigenous people speaking about this book stating “Oh, I don’t see the Residential School references in this book except for small parallels in the framework” or “There are people “over reacting” in the reviews trying to make this book be something it’s not.” And I’m just going to say, have you ever wondered why not many Indigenous people read this book and reviewed it or even stated their opinion on this book? Take a moment to ask yourself how you would feel if someone wrote an entire book based entirely of historical trauma from your own people, that they have no connection to and even acknowledge publicly it’s not their story to share yet wrote it anyway, that is still being felt in present day. A trauma that has never been given the room to heal from because more and more things keep coming into the light. Honestly, seeing so many people talking and acting this way almost discouraged me from writing this review and speaking my truth, my experience reading this book.

My discomfort with this book first started during the first chapter. Now, this was before I was even seen the interviews. So right from the beginning I was uncomfortable with no knowledge of what the story was inspired by or what this entire book was centered around. Actually, the first chapter made me believe that this book was going to address the child welfare system as a whole, address how broken the foster system is, and how terrible the whole adoption process is. Which that in itself are whole topics that I wish was addressed more often in literature, in general. But I digress. That was the beginning of my discomfort with this book. The real discomfort began when Linus actually arrived for the new case he was working on. From there, you know how when your memory sends triggers or little red flags to you that something isn’t right? Yeah, that kind of feeling where you feel a little bit like a deer in the headlights and you’re trying to process on just how to proceed. That was me while reading this book. There would be very specific scenes like the really emotional scene we get with Sal or the really emotional scene with Arthur talking about his past, even in the first chapter I would get this painful pricking in the back of my skull and it felt like sleigh bells were being rung in my ears. During these scenes I kept thinking, “Something doesn’t feel right about this. Something feels off, but also familiar. I can’t put my finger on it.”

I mentioned before how Linus as a main character was really hard to connect to at times for me. I think the only times I’ve felt any connection to Linus was during the scenes where there would be minor discussion surrounding the internal and external fatphobia. That’s something I can relate to on a personal level and probably talk about for hours about how big of a problem it is making people fatphobic of themselves and others, and how it’s harmful to everyone or how it doesn’t fix anything except make things worse. But my real issue with Linus was his lack of caring. Linus is basically the magical version of CPS (child protective services). And let me let you in on a secret, I’ve met quite a few of these type of case workers, five to be exact. I still remember their names, the details in their face and every expression they’ve made, and how every time their investigation would conclude they would say, “Well, everything seems to be in order, nothing wrong here, sorry to bother you folks.” It’s a very rare theme to find case workers who actually do care for the children and go the extra mile to check in on past cases. What surprised me was how he never once bothered to ask about how the children are placed in these orphanages and where are their families, doesn’t bother asking why these children can’t practice or learn about their cultures, never once inquires about the kind of environments the kids are being raised in or how they’re being treated in these environments, never asks about the parents or what happened to the families of these children (though we do see get some file details for some children and about Arthur that parents are “assumed dead”), he never bothers looking into what happens to the children once an orphanage is shut down (all we know is they get sent off to either another orphanage or a government run boarding school for magical youth run by the very company he works for), and he never once thinks about the kind of trauma the children go through in all of this. He literally assumes that all these children are being placed in good care or that the government will take care and provide for them despite cases where he stated he’s seen different. That’s it. That’s as far as his compassion and caring goes, his assumptions. Otherwise, it’s like the cases never existed in the first place. And yes he ends up slowly changing by the end of the book, but why couldn’t he have been like this from the beginning?

“Sometimes our prejudices color our thoughts when we least expect them to. If we can recognize that, and learn from it, we can become better people.”

I’m finally going to address it, yes, address the parallels and framework that this magical world is pretty darn close to Residential Schools or The Sixties Scoop. Circling back to what I stated previously, those little warning signs and the way things felt so familiar, like I’ve seen or heard similar stories. It’s due to having heard the stories of survivors from Residential Schools, it’s listening and watching documentaries on Residential Schools, watching Indigenous youth still go through walking the fine line of growing up with their culture yet being forced to go to public school (I’m referencing a documentary called ‘In My Blood It Runs‘), and having open conversations with my elders, aunties, and uncle to hear the history from those who have more wisdom than I and learning about the hard truth from them first hand. And maybe it’s because I’m white passing that my aunties and uncle really emphasized our history, our culture into me. So that I knew the truth spoken by elders and if there ever a came a time, use my voice to speak the truth loudly and direct those who don’t understand to those voices speaking their truth. And if you’ve never taken the time to actually listen to the voices of those who survived Residential Schools then it’s possibly you won’t see the details and you may only see it as frame work or even “bare bones” for the story, but I can assure you that once you’ve listened to enough Indigenous voices speak their truth of surviving those horrors, you will see how close the parallels are. The few links I’ve include are just a small few from dozens of sources I can provide.

Trying to write this part was really hard and I feel like I’ve rewritten this section countless of times because I feel like I have no nice way of writing this, but maybe that’s okay because sometimes the truth hurts and it needs to be said. My biggest issue isn’t the fact that this book is inspired by and written about Residential Schools. I think the part that bothers me the most about this book is the fact that it almost feels like it romanticizes or glorifies Residential Schools and the trauma/suffering that comes from the real history of Residential Schools. Which, it wouldn’t be the first time someone wrote a book glorifying the history of Indigenous people. In the interviews, the author even states how the overall message of this book is kindness and that’s reflected in so many parts within this book. We watch as Linus comes in, saves the day with one final report to DICOMY, and suddenly all problems and worries Arthur and the children were facing just disappear. Everything just stops. Including the bigotry from the town, where the mayor, Arthur, and Linus literally tell them to stop and suddenly all hatred and racism towards the magical people stops entirely. Racism and prejudices don’t suddenly stop because a few people say, “Knock it the hell off!” Actually, I’ve seen the opposite where people will become more determined to display that negative behavior. Recently, I’ve been seeing this common theme in various communities from non-Indigenous people constantly saying “It’s not that bad” or “I don’t see how this is a problem” and constantly using “kindness” as a tool for erasure of Indigenous history, trauma/suffering, voices, and hardships they have faced for generations and are still facing in present day. And that’s kind of how this feels with this book. It feels like another non-Indigenous person stepping forward to say, “I have the solution to decades upon decades of oppression, racism, and bigotry towards Indigenous people… It’s kindness! All we need is kindness!” That’s not how this works. This was never how it worked historically or systematically.

“Just because you don’t experience prejudice in your everyday doesn’t stop it from existing for the rest of us.”

Overall, I’m exhausted friends. I’m so freaking exhausted on trying to convey my thoughts and feelings on this book, the way I had over 20 bookmarks of resources to put in this review because Indigenous people always have to provide the resources but deserve to have their voices heard, to express how saddened I am about these interviews with the author, how I feel kind of ashamed for parts that I actually enjoyed of this book, and just the mass amount of mixed feelings I have in general about this book now. As a Native person reading this book and stating my truth of my experience with this book, I feel like my voice is going to fall on muffled ears, on those who are going to brush it off and say, “You’re over reacting.” or “You’re making up references that don’t exist.” Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it all before where many people have silenced my voice in that way. As a fellow reader, I hope that this review reaches someone and gives them food for thought because they haven’t heard opposing voices in the sea of endless positivity or maybe that haven’t heard any Indigenous readers step forward stating their opinions. I removed my rating for this book on here because at this moment, I don’t have the energy to do so. I genuinely don’t feel like it deserves that kind of attention at the moment because I want my voice to be heard. Also, I’m going to link some further resources for anyone who wants them. And all I can do is ask that you hear the voices of Indigenous people, whether it’s one, a dozen, forty, or more… Just listen to them speak their truth.

Cossette’s Review
Indian Residential School Survivors Society
Legacy of Hope
Kamloops Aboriginal Friendship Society
Indigenous Peoples Survival Foundation
NDN Collective Stories


7 thoughts on “The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune

  1. thank you for writing this review Malli. ❤ it is disappointing seeing so few people listen to Indigenous voices, and the onus of education should not be on you. i have seen a lot of people talk about how harmful this book is, but it's always drowned out by the people who loved it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Naut, I appreciate you! 💜 Sadly, a lot of people just don’t care about Indigenous people or their voices, but when people do care, it means a whole lot. I wish things were different in the world and sometimes everyone would wake up, and start helping Indigenous communities.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much for writing this! When someone brought this to my attention and I looked up the controversy I wasn’t sure whether or not indigenous people were speaking on the topic bc the top google results seem to be non-indigenous people. So I really thank you for using your voice because that’s the most important thing in all of this.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Agree with Brooke, as a non Indigenous person I really am glad to hear your voice on the book. I just finished and didn’t know this information before reading it but how heard good reviews. I then saw awful reviews and was disappointed and second guessed if I should continue reading. I’m glad I read it and I did overall like it but I can certainly see how it’s problematic and I’m glad I was able to read you review to learn more and hopefully come to terms with my own feelings on it. I feel literacy can be a complicated thing sometimes and I hope we are able to hear more voices in these circumstances. I appreciate your honeat review and education.


  4. Hello! Thank you for the work, thoroughness, and emotional labour involved in creating this response. You’ve really encouraged me to sit with/challenge this book. I also enjoyed the aspects of found family and honestly just seeing a middle aged queer couple. With Linus I did find it interesting to watch a character start to unlearn their understanding of an incredibly harmful system that they upheld and benefited from(not saying he fully achieved that but mainly just because it’s such a rare occurrence). With that said it was frustrating to see the solution be the whole ‘person previously part of the bad system leaves and saves all of the people they hurt’ thing? Like Arthur and the children were kind of made powerless in that whole aspect which feels like a gross white saviour message. I haven’t listened to/read the author interviews yet but I will definitely do so with your reflection and the additional resources in mind. I just lent someone this book and I’m going to send this to them to read.

    Liked by 1 person

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