Under the Whispering Door by T. J. Klune (book review)
Updated: Feb 15, 2022
GENRE: Adult Fantasy
LENGTH: 373 pages
Wallace Price dies and find himself being taken by a reaper to a tea house. This tea house serves as a way station for newly departed souls. There Wallace meets Hugo, a kind man meant to guide him to the afterlife.
There are five primary characters within the novel. There is Wallace and Hugo of course, and then Mei (a reaper who works at the tea house), Nelson (another ghost and Hugo's grandfather), and Apollo (a ghost dog).
In life Wallace was a ruthless attorney who cared more for fine suits than the feelings of those around him. During his time in the tea house he is transformed into a better man. I started out really hating him and ended up feeling emotional and nearly tearing up at the thought of his impending fate.
Hugo is the kind of character that you wish was your real life friend. He makes you feel warm and fuzzy. Though he and Wallace seem like complete opposites they play really well off each other.
I would love and entire book all about Mei. Her backstory is quite heartbreaking but she has this fierceness to her. Nelson and Apollo, meanwhile, were characters who added lightness and humor to the story. Besides Wallace, Nelson is the standout character for me. He really read like someone's funny grandad.
The novel is told from Wallace's third person perspective. The writing has the same whimsy as Klune's previous novel, The House in the Cerulean Sea (my favorite book of last year). It is also thematically similar with both having protagonists who undergo a lot of growth and featuring found families.
This novel has plenty of heavy, heart wrenching moments, but also ones that made me smile and chuckle. It's a delicate balance that could have easily tipped into absurd territory but never did. Without the moments of bonding and jokes I think this novel would have been too difficult to read. At the same time without the more serious, somber moments the book would lose its message and themes. It's a credit to Klune has an author that he can strike that ideal balance.
If you fell in love with Klune's writing style in The House in the Cerulean Sea then you need to pick this book up. You will be just as enchanted by the whimsy and just as touched by the characters. This book ended up in my top 10 books of 2021 and there's good reason for that. I plan to pick up whatever Klune writes in the future because he has this way of bringing a smile to my face even on days when I'm close to tears.
FINAL RATING: 5⭐️