Art Beat: Of Books and bans
The Portage Communiteen Read is a community reading event developed in a collaboration by the Portage Public Schools, the Portage District Library, and Bookbug/this is a bookstore in Kalamazoo. The books chosen are cross-generational, so youth and adults can read them together. The 2023 author is TJ Klune. The book is The House on the Cerulean Sea (Tor Books, 2020).
“This book, at its core, is about kindness,” says Klune. “It is also about the anti-Christ. It follows a man named Linus Baker, who works for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, essentially social workers for magical children. In this world, magical children are kept separate and magical adults are regulated as well by the government. In this case, Linus has been doing his job for so long that he is, unfortunately, very good at it. He is very quiet and demure and very much a rule-follower and a stickler for the rules. Then, on one auspicious day, he is given a top-secret assignment.”
That assignment is to visit the island on the Cerulean Sea where he finds an orphanage for magical children. Each child is different, with different magical skills, but one especially intrigues him: little Lucy, short for Lucifer, a son of Satan. While staying at the orphanage, Linus is transformed by the children and their caretaker. He discovers his own biases and boundaries - which ones to keep and which to break through. It is also a love story between two men—Linus and the caretaker of the orphanage - as well as a discovery of what it means to find a home and family.
“The coming-out story has been done over and over again, and it’s been done by better authors than me,” Klune says. “But the reality is, that is not the end of a queer person’s journey. Anybody we meet in the future is potentially someone we have to come out to. So, I’m always interested in queer people who have had that step and are continuing to live their lives throughout.”
Klune has experienced having his books banned for this reason, he says.
“My young adult series, The Extraordinaries, has been challenged on multiple occasions,” he says. “Queer kids don’t get sex education in this country. Any sex education in school is 99.9% of the time geared toward straight people. So where do queer kids get their information on how to be a sexually active person when they get older? They go to the internet, and that’s not always the best place to find such things.”
In that series, Klune says he wanted to write about a kid with ADHD who was gay, telling how he should protect himself and have safe boundaries. But that, Klune says, “did not always go over well.”
“It just blows my mind that something inoffensive as love and respect and empathy is enough for people to lose their minds,” Klune says.
TJ Klune is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling, Lambda Literary Award-winning author of The House in the Cerulean Sea, The Extraordinaries, and more. He will give a presentation and lead a discussion on Tuesday, February 21, at 6 p.m. at the Zhang Senior Center in Portage. The event is free and open to the public but requires advance registration.
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