I don’t know what kind of magic TJ Klune is involved with, but man oh man, is it good. I swear with each new book he releases, I fall in love with his writing and stories all over again. And that is so obviously the case with his newest adult novel, Under the Whispering Door.
When a reaper comes to collect Wallace Price from his own funeral, Wallace suspects he really might be dead.
Instead of leading him directly to the afterlife, the reaper takes him to a small village. On the outskirts, off the path through the woods, tucked between mountains, is a particular tea shop, run by a man named Hugo. Hugo is the tea shop’s owner to locals and the ferryman to souls who need to cross over.
But Wallace isn’t ready to abandon the life he barely lived. With Hugo’s help he finally starts to learn about all the things he missed in life.
When the Manager, a curious and powerful being, arrives at the tea shop and gives Wallace one week to cross over, Wallace sets about living a lifetime in seven days.
Under the Whispering Door is a contemporary fantasy about a ghost who refuses to cross over and the ferryman he falls in love with.
This book immediately dumps you into you the lap of the irritating Wallace Price. From the very first chapter you’re introduced to his, well, “crappy ass” personality, and you already know that you’re in for a very interesting ride. For me, Whispering Door didn’t suffer with any excess nonsense. I liked that it took its time navigating through Wallace’s daily struggle with being dead. This book centers around character development and relationships, which isn’t always fast-paced and exhilarating. It’s a slow process as the relationships Wallace’s forms with the other occupants of Charon’s Crossing Tea Shop transform him into a new person. Some may not enjoy that slower journey, but I was just as engrossed in it as I would be any plot driven story.
And a book driven by relationships must have an interesting cast of characters, with the star of this one being Wallace. Wallace is a workaholic who centers his life around being a partner in a well-run law firm. He doesn’t accept any type of failure and sees personal relationships as an interruption. He’s driven by his success, with the only measurement of that being his work. But watching him grow and his interactions with the others was such a delight. He’s actually a pretty funny person.. for an attorney, haha! Then we have the loveable Hugo. He’s the proprietor of Charon’s Crossing, as well as the local ferryman. He has the softest heart and his ability to empathize and connect with others makes him one of the best ferryman that The Manager has. I loved getting to see the relationship between Wallace and Hugo blossom. They really embody the saying that opposites attract! Next is Mei, the resident Reaper. She’s feisty, strong, and incredibly loyal towards Hugo. Her and Nelson definitely bring out the humorous side of the story. And speaking of Nelson, I’ll admit that he’s my favorite. He’s Hugo’s deceased grandfather who sticks around to keep an eye on things. He plays both the wise old man, and the jokester. I always caught myself really thinking over the things he would say because he has such gravitas. Out of all of the characters, he seemed most alive and real to me.
I’ve seen some people say that this story has a pretty simple message – be kind. But I don’t necessarily agree with that. This is ultimately a story about grief and death and the long path to acceptance. I have always been scared of death and the unknown. I hate the idea of not being around to experience new things. But reading this book actually has made me feel better about it. SERIOUSLY. TJ Klune actually wrote a story about death that made me feel better about it. And oh yes, you better believe that I cried 3 times while reading it but it still gave me relief in a way that I wasn’t expecting. It was profound and insanely bittersweet, and that’s actually a lot like how death really is. He nailed it.
This may be my favorite book of the year so far. I can’t find any faults with it, no matter how hard I look. If there’s one issue, it’s that it’s only a standalone novel. I want more. I would love to follow this amazing little group of people and learn more about the world of Reapers and Ferryman. I feel like Klune did give us just enough room to possibly explore later down the road, though maybe that’s just my wishful thinking. I can understand if that isn’t the case, as the ending does have more weight this way. But come on, can’t a girl get a little something extra?!
Final Verdict: 5/5 Stars
Is Under the Whispering Door on your TBR list? Do you like books that make you cry or do you prefer happy stories? Have you read any of TJ Klune’s other novels? If so, which ones?