Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Bi/pansexual MC, Black gay love interest, Chinese-American secondary character, Black secondary character, M/M or mlm
Published on: 21st September 2021
Under the Whispering Door is a contemporary fantasy with TJ Klune's signature "quirk and charm" (PW) about a ghost who refuses to cross over and the ferryman he falls in love with.
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.
By turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, this absorbing tale of grief and hope is told with TJ Klune's signature warmth, humor, and extraordinary empathy.
I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
~tea for all, and all for tea
~it’s okay not to be okay
~All The Feels
~fear the Manager
~what happens if you’re a better person as a ghost than you ever were alive?
If you’re reading this, you belong to one of three groups; either you’ve been following Klune’s work for a while, or you’ve read The House in the Cerulean Sea, or you’ve never read any of his books at all. How you should approach Under the Whispering Door varies depending on which group you’re in.
If you’ve read two or more of Klune’s books, you don’t really need to be here; you don’t need me to tell you that Under the Whispering Door is excellent, because by now it should be obvious that everything Klune writes is excellent; and you don’t need me to warn you to brace yourself for some serious Feels because again, you already know that everything Klune writes is packing hardcore Feels. Stock up on soft things to squeeze very hard during intense moments, handkerchiefs, and your preferred brand of chocolate, and you’re good to go.
If you’ve only read The House in the Cerulean Sea, then here is what you must know: yes, Under the Whispering Door has the same soft whimsy that so thoroughly captured your heart in House. It is present in the cheerful strangeness of the teahouse’s architecture. It is present in The Bunny Costume. It is present in the baffling, and yet somehow perfectly correct, placement of the eponymous Door.
But the gentleness of Under the Whispering Door is of a different kind to the gentleness in House. House is a snuggly, hopeful book, just a tiny bit silly, a lot of fun, and intrinsically optimistic. It is a feel-good book. It has lots of important things to say, but when you turn the final pages, you close the book not feeling overwhelmed, but glowing and comforted and a bit steadier on your feet.
The gentleness of Under the Whispering Door is a merciless gentleness. This is a book that wraps you up in a blanket, not to make you feel cosy, but because that is what we do when things hurt. This is a book that holds your hand, not to be friendly, but because we all need a hand to hold when we’re facing death and grief. This is a book that does not tell you it’s going to be okay, because nothing about death is okay. There is sweetness, and there is peacefulness, and there is a lot of laughter, but it is fundamentally a different kind of book than House.
You need to know that, because if you go in expecting a book just like House wearing a different dress, you’re going to be disappointed. And you’ll miss how beautiful Under the Whispering Door is, just because it doesn’t look like what you wanted.
And if you’re in the camp that has never read a Klune book before…this might just be the perfect place to start.
Wallace is not an especially nice person when we first meet him, but rather than being frozen as he was, he lives and grows far more in death than he ever did while he was alive. Gone from a big-shot lawyer to a ghost confined to a very strange tea-shop, it’s pretty understandable that he freaks out a little. But he doesn’t have to go through the Door upstairs until he’s ready.
He’s not ready yet. That’s okay.
He’s also surrounded by an incredible cast of characters; Hugo, who owns the tea-shop and is a ferryman, responsible for helping ghosts be ready to move on; Mei, who is a reaper, someone who collects the deceased and brings them to a ferryman; Nelson, Hugo’s deceased grandfather; and Apollo, who is the sweetest ghost-dog to ever haunt anyone. Klune always rocks when it comes to characters, and Under the Whispering Door is no exception; this is not a fast-paced story, but it’s a quietly powerful character-driven one, and it works. It doesn’t happen instantly, but the way the characters come together, how they form a family, is just beautiful. The way they play off each other seems so natural that it becomes difficult to remember that Wallace is a new addition to the family, rather than having been there from day one.
What we see of the workings of the afterlife is a mixture of eerie and whimsical; Klune strikes just the right balance while neatly sidestepping issues of religion, giving us enough pieces to make it clear that there is a system behind everything…without trying to explain what that is. Which I think is the right approach; Klune isn’t trying to explain death away, never tries to challenge the fear and mystery that is intrinsic to it. This is a book about coming to terms with what death is, and death is scary and mysterious. There’s no getting around or away from that, and Under the Whispering Door doesn’t try.
That’s why there is no way for this book not to hurt. It hurts, because Klune is just too damn good at tapping into emotion, at making us feel. And this time, we have to feel things about something none of us really know how to deal with, something we’re all scared of, something that hurts.
And that’s okay.
There are rom-com elements, but this is not a romantic comedy. There is plenty of heart-break, but this is not a tragedy. There are one or two things which are horrifying, but this book is definitely not horror. It’s about regrets and loss and yearning, love and family and tea. It’s about how it’s okay to not be okay. It’s about opening your heart up even when it hurts. It’s about grief.
It’s a beautiful story. It is going to hurt your heart, more than once.
But it’s very, very worth it.