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


Everyone has the right to be seen and flourish, regardless of background and abilities. But, because of other people’s unique characteristics, they can be shunned and judged by society. 

In his book, The House in the Cerulean Sea, Klune illustrates the significance of acknowledging the differences among people, especially children and giving them a chance to live and attain their optimal potential. In one mysterious orphanage, children with exceptional abilities were isolated as they were feared by the nearby community. Because of this, the authorities were concerned about what they could do to the people around them and the whole world. Do they deserve to continue living in the orphanage or not? 

TJ Klune guides the reader in navigating through the thoughts and experiences of the characters while touching on social issues that need to be considered before it’s too late for us to change and uphold the true essence of being humans. 

The House in the Cerulean Sea is an award-winning book written by TJ Klune. This New York Times bestseller won the Alex Award and Mythopoeic Scholarship Award for Adult Literature in 2021. However, despite these accolades, the book received criticisms because, to some degree, it’s based on the Sixties Coop, wherein the Canadian government took indigenous children from their families and communities and put them up for adoption. This caused generational and historical trauma in indigenous kids.


(from Goodreads)

“A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he's given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn. 

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place―and realizing that family is yours.”

  1. What do you think about the title of the book?
  2. What is the main message of the book?
  3. How does the plot of the story deliver its message?
  4. Is the story an allegory? Why or why not?
  5. What is your favorite part of the book?
  6. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the main character?
  7. Can you identify with the main character? In what ways?
  8. Who is your favorite character and why?
  9. What questions would you ask the author?
  10. Would you recommend this book? Why or why not?


  • The story is magical but the author didn’t hesitate to touch on different social issues. It is a cautionary tale of not acknowledging and accepting the uniqueness of every person. It could lead to discrimination, child abuse, and neglect which are pretty common nowadays. 
  • For me, Mr. Baker is the representative of the reader in the story. When he was assigned to do the challenging task, he was full of anxiety and hesitation. He is like a scaredy cat. However, despite that, he opened his mind and heart to the children. Sometimes you have to suspend your judgment on people who are unique and different. 
  • The hero's journey is impressively well-written. The author was able to clearly paint the initial thoughts and feelings of the main character that are leaning to the negative side, and the hero’s massive transformation towards the end of the story. 
  • I love the characters in the story but their dialogue sometimes can be dragging and didactic.  There are parts where the character seems to give a sermon on moral issues.
  • The love story was not convincing for me. I was just surprised that two of the characters fell in love in the end. It was not well-developed for me.
  • The vibe of the story could be clearer for me. It’s like a mix of a cartoon TV show, an anime, and an episode of a fantasy anthology TV series. I imagine it is like The Willoughbys movie by Netflix. It's weird because it’s like a children’s story but also a story for grownups.
  • The story is not plot-driven so there were slow parts that I wanted to skip. Honestly, they made me want to DNF the book but I didn’t because I wanted to finish it.

“ When you live in a cookie-cutter world, being different is a sin.” 

This is one of the lines of the song “Weird” by the Hansons. I loved listening to and singing this song when I was young because it expressed what I felt inside. I was very shy back then and I noticed that I had different interests compared to my siblings and friends. I was a lonely child who loved to be alone and study, do my homework, and read books. Being different can bring avoidance and isolation.  

However, a psychologist from Yale University said that it is natural for us to have different characteristics. It is not a bad thing. It is important to recognize and understand the diverse and dissimilar traits of people because there are no two people who have an exact set of characteristics. That's the way it is. That's what being human means. 

TJ Klune's The House in the Cerulean Sea tells the story of orphans who are treated as strange and dangerous because of their unique personalities and abilities. Despite the confusing vibe and the serious social issues incorporated in the story, readers can still enjoy the relatable characters, especially the magical ones, and leave you pondering about thought-provoking insights related to love, self-acceptance, and respect for others. 

TJ Klune is exceptional at creating interesting characters. The main character, Mr. Baker is relatable in a way that he mirrors our reactions to being chosen to do a backbreaking assignment, going on to an unexpected visit to a mysterious orphanage on an island, and meeting children rumored to be dangerous. His journey is well-written as his transformations are clearly depicted. Mr. Baker is memorable.

Aside from the characters, it is also impressive that Klune was able to incorporate different social issues, which could be trigger warnings so the reader’s discretion is advised, to a magical story. Some of the crucial issues included child abuse, discrimination, and body shaming. Also, on his website, Klune wanted to add “ accurate and positive queer representations in stories,” which he did in The House in the Cerulean Sea. 

I enjoyed getting to know the characters and following their journey but there were parts that I didn’t love. Sometimes, dialogues can be dragging and didactic as if the character was giving a sermon on moral issues. The love story was not also well-developed for me. I was just surprised that two of the characters fell in love in the end. The vibe of the story was confusing, too. It felt like a funny cartoon mixed with a magical anime and a little bit of a serious grown-up show. It reminds me of the movie called "The Willoughbys" on Netflix. It’s just a unique book for me because it's a heartwarming, entertaining story for kids, but it’s also about sensitive social issues. The book is both interesting and confusing, which made my reading experience very unique. 

The House in the Cerulean Sea gives me mixed feelings. I enjoyed the characters so much because they are interesting and relatable, but the dialogue and plot have lackluster parts. However, all in all, the book left me with a unique reading experience that will not make this book forgettable. 


TJ Klune's Website  




Book Information:

The House in the Cerulean Sea  by TJ Klune

Published on March 17, 2020, by Tor Books 

264 pages (eBook)

Find it here: