Book Banter: The House in the Cerulean Sea

Michelle Bulla, June 2024

“I listened to the earth. It sings. Most people don’t realize that. You have to listen for it with all your might. Some will never hear it, no matter how hard they try. But I can hear it as well as I can hear you. It sang to me, and I promised it in return that I would care for it” (196).

How well do we listen? How well do we love? How well do we love to listen? Attunement to what is inside – spoken or unspoken – can determine whether we engage with those around us in authentic ways. Do we see each other? Perhaps if we begin to see with our ears we will find ways to transcend what we see and judge, or misperceive – with our eyes. Can we hear the heartbeat? Feel it? Hear what it is beating for rather than pondering why it beats or how fast or how slow? What does it take to listen?

In this fantastical novel resplendent with magical realism, T. J. Klune explores what it means to be alive, what it means to love, and how our capacity to hear each other’s song determines our capacity to love both ourselves and others. The pathway to liberation is paved with compassion for self and for difference. Klune recognizes how hard this can be, especially for all of us who tend to follow the rules and partake in systems that long precede us. Through the journey of one Mr. Linus Baker, we meet magically gifted children living in an orphanage he is charged with evaluating at the behest of DICOMY – the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. As Baker evolves from dispassionate observer (was he ever, really?) to compassionate friend, we find ourselves learning the lesson Klune cloaks in this lovely tale: When we listen – really listen – we learn how much power each of our songs can have.

Appropriate for middle grades through magically-youthful adults. (Tor Books, 2020)

Michelle G. Bulla is a 20+ year high school English teacher at Monroe-Woodbury High School in Orange County, where she also serves as 9-12 English Department Chair. She is on the Executive Board for the New York State English Council (NYSEC), serves on the NYSED English Language Arts Content Advisory Panel, and worked on the new revision of the state standards.

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