A few months ago, I read T.J. Klune’s “The House in the Cerulean Sea” and absolutely loved it. When I heard Klune had another book coming out, I placed my hold right away, not even seeing what the book was about. I was excited to see what Klune would do next, and I was not disappointed. “Under the Whispering Door” is a story about a man named Wallace Price who dies and finds himself in a world between life and death until he is ready to cross over into the next phase. The story is heavy and heartfelt, but also gentle and touching in wonderful ways.
As this story deals heavily with death, there is an author’s note at the very start of the novel:
“This story explores life and love as well as loss and grief.
There are discussions of death in different forms – quiet, unexpected, and death by suicide.
Please read with care.”
I appreciated this note at the start, and I wanted to put it in this review as well, as readers may want to be aware of the heavy topics before beginning the book. As mentioned, there are all types of death discussed in this book; different ages, different circumstances. The topics of death, loss, faith and acceptance are explored throughout the book, and readers should know that these heavy themes are present from start to finish and are dealt with by different characters in different ways.
The readers see Wallace Price alive at the start of the novel in the first chapter, and quickly learn he is not a good person. After his death at the end of the first chapter, he is taken by his reaper Mei from his own funeral to a tea shop, which is where those that have died can stay until they are ready to cross into their next phase and leave this world behind. At the tea shop, Wallace meets Hugo, the ferryman who helps the dead to cross, as well as Hugo’s granddad Nelson and his dog Apollo, both of whom are dead. Wallace learns a lot while he stays at the tea shop, and is soon unrecognizable from the person who died at the start of the book. This story touched my heart and had me shedding tears multiple times, making me want to hug my loved ones as tightly as possible.
As with “The House in the Cerulean Sea”, Klune’s cast of characters is colourful and diverse. Lambda Literary-Award winning author T.J. Klune is a queer man who focuses on writing fantasy novels that feature a wide variety of characters. This novel features multiple LGBTQ+ characters, as well as characters of different ethnicities and backgrounds. The diversity of the cast makes the book so enjoyable, as it reminds readers that there is always more to people than one particular trait. I haven’t been able to get these characters out of my head since finishing this book, and really appreciated being able to see so many different people in one story.
I don’t want to say too much about the actual plot and events of the novel, because I don’t want to spoil any of the greatness that is discovered through reading it. Wallace meets multiple other people while at the tea shop, both alive and dead, who are in various stages of their journey through grief. The characters help each other in different ways, sometimes subtle, sometimes more apparent. One of the subtle and beautiful ways featured throughout the book is the sharing of tea. The novel mentions this Balti quote multiple times, as it is displayed in the tea shop: “The first time you share tea, you are a stranger. The second time you share tea, you are an honoured guest. The third time you share tea, you become family.” While I wasn’t drinking tea with any of the characters, I felt as though I journeyed alongside Wallace, and became closer and closer to the characters as the novel went on, feeling like family by the end. This novel was stunning, heartfelt, devastating and uplifting all at the same time, and came in second place for “Best Fantasy” novel in the annual GoodReads Choice Awards for 2021. If you haven’t already, place your hold on “Under the Whispering Door” by T.J. Klune today!