Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune
Quirky and heartwarming tale about life, after death, in a teashop.
Wallace Price is known for exacting personality and cutthroat legal skills. That is, until he unexpectedly dies, and begins his journey of life after death. After his death, Wallace meets his reaper, Mei, who leads him to the ferryman, Hugo.. As Wallace processes his death, he learns more than he ever did in life.
Small disclaimer, as a book about death, this book touches on some triggering topics but never in any detail. If you are triggered by references then it may not be the best pick for you.
Last year, TJ Klune published one of my favorite books of the year, The House in the Cerulean Sea. It feels pretty obvious to say that I have been looking forward to the release of Under the Whispering Door since learning about it. I was even more excited to have the opportunity to review the book in advance since it is one of the most anticipated books of the fall.
One of the things that I love about Klune is his unapologetically queer stance with his writing. Both Cerulean Sea and Whispering Door seek to create worlds where representation is naturally built in. As I get older and as a mom, I realize how important it is to young adults to have natural representation in media. Klune always hits that note for me perfectly. I love his use of magical realism to create a book that is both grounded and fantastical at the same time.
Now, on to the actual story itself! Wallace Price is, to put it plainly, a bit of an exacting tyrant within his law firm. He expects perfection and will not tolerate anything outside of the ordinary. Imagine his surprise when he suddenly wakes up at his own sparsely attended funeral. Price only remembers bits of his death and doesn't quite believe it when his reaper, Mei, introduces herself. Mei explains that he is, in fact, actually dead and that it's now time to begin his journey to the other side. She leads him to Charon's Teahouse, a unique little spot that serves as both a way-stop for spirits processing their death and the most popular tea shop for humans in the neighborhood. At the shop, Wallace meets Hugo, the ferryman, whose job is to help him accept his death, and Hugo's ghostly grandfather, Nelson, and dog, Apollo. As Wallace spends more time at the shop, he begins to have the sneaking suspicion that he may not have approached life with the best attitude. His journey, and creation of beautiful friendships, is the crux of this lovely little book on grief and loss.
While he is a bit on the annoying side, the characterization really allows Klune's humor to shine through. The opening scene with Price's internal thoughts flickering through the scene was a perfect note. The humor continues throughout the rest of the book, adding much needed levity to the book that grapples with death and grief. Another strong point are the side characters of Mei and Nelson. Their interactions with Wallace bring some of the most humorous and heartwarming moments to the book.
Whispering Door takes you on a journey. Like life, it's a complicated one with ups and downs, moments that feel incredibly fast and ones that seem to go on forever. Towards the end of the book, it did feel like it wrapped up almost a little too neatly. But, I found myself surprisingly content with the end after reading the epilogue. Klune crafts a wonderful story that keeps you engaged the entire time. As someone who is still working through the ocean of grief from the loss of my father, this book was a cathartic release that allowed me to get some tears out. It felt like Wallace's journey of fighting his death was my own fight with grief.
"The first time you share tea, you are a stranger. The second time you share tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share tea, you become family." -Under the Whispering Door
After looking at some of the other reviews, it's clear to me that this book may end up being a bit polarizing because it has to contend with the popularity and expectations of being the follow up to Cerulean Sea and because Wallace is a bit of a twat character wise. As mentioned, I really like the counterpoint that Wallace's personality brings because it does create humorous moments and you are able to see the character go through a true transformation, but there is no doubt that he will be a turn-off for some readers.
I really enjoyed this book and cannot wait to see what everyone thinks! You can grab your copy of Under the Whispering Door on Tuesday, September 21 at a bookseller near you. Thank you to NetGalley and Tor for the advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.
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