UNDER THE WHISPERING DOOR
Written by T.J Klune
Published by Tor Books, September 21, 2021
My star rating – 5 stars, infinity, perfection!
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’ve attempted to write this review so many times and failed. When you come across a book that is so unexpected, makes you feel emotions to your core, and walks the line of perfection…. it’s a little hard to compose your thoughts and put them on paper. I, like a lot of you, fell in love with T.J Klune’s writing when I read The House in the Cerulean Sea. It was a book filled with magic, unique and amazing characters, quirky humour, and a story that warms your heart. I expected much more of the same with this book and I got it – but I also got WAY MORE than I ever expected.
The book begins with the death of Wallace. Here’s the thing – he’s a total asshole. He knows he is, accepts it, and runs with it. He was awful to his ex wife, fires a woman after she pours her heart out to him about all the things she’s struggling with, and knows that he’s generally unliked… and he doesn’t care. He’s one of the most successful and intimidating lawyers in the area, has everything material he could want, and that’s enough for him. And then he dies. You would think that when you’re facing the end of your life you would worry about missing out on the things you didn’t get to do and the people you left behind. Not Wallace. He worried about his upcoming cases and all the work he had to do. Then the Reaper comes and he has to face what his life truly meant.
I’m not going to lie – I hated Wallace and I didn’t think that there was any way possible for me to feel for him. But his character arc was nothing short of spectacular and wholly believable. I fell for Wallace and I fell HARD. But it wasn’t only him. It was every single character. The way he writes characters was so vivid and complete. You didn’t get any overwhelming monologues but he still found a way to explain all the characters thoughts and emotions in such a complete way that I felt like I had known them for years. We get a backstory that is short and to the point; explaining just enough for you to get the picture but not taking you out of the current story line. Brilliance!
One of my favourite things about The House in the Cerulean Sea was how quirky it was. The word choices, characters, and even the situations and places they found themselves in. It spoke to my nerdy weird soul… and this was just as quirky! He takes all of the things that you would expect and turns them upside down and inside out. Take, for example, the Reaper. You expect the man/ghost with a raspy voice and a black hooded cape and a scythe. No. We got an adorable asian woman in a snazzy suit as she awkwardly completes her task as a Reaper for the first time by herself. You would also expect for this book to take place in a clouded/forest like kingdom as we are experiencing people being ferried onto the afterlife… wrong again. Instead we get a quaint tea shop in the middle of the woods with fairy lights, baked goods, and mismatched furniture. It’s all of these small details that take you on an adventure far away from your expectations that makes this book something that much more special!
One thing that I will say threw me off was the premise of “a character who has 7 days to live all the experiences of a lifetime.” That plot point doesn’t actually happen until around 60% of the way through the book. I hope that doesn’t spoil anything for you (i’m not saying anything specific so I don’t think so). I just think that if you know that then maybe you won’t spend so much time wondering when that plot point comes in and just enjoy the ride. There is so much that happens with our characters before we get to that point that I feel needed to happen. If it happened sooner, the story wouldn’t be near the same.
I end this review with a warning – YOU. WILL. CRY. I’m not talking small tears or misty eyes. I mean the type of crying that has your breath catching. The type of crying that forces you to put the book down because you can’t see the words. The type of crying that will warrant MANY tissues. The type of crying that makes you wake up in the morning with puffy swollen eyes. Oh – and you won’t cry just once. Oh no. Multiple times. You will think the wave is over and then it’s back again, kicking you square in the heart. This book wins the award for the amount of times I cried and how hard. It was insanity. I think that if I was to reread it I would still cry just as hard. There are so many emotional topics hit in here that I wasn’t expecting. My emotional attachment to the characters and the way it was written was just so thoroughly impactful. It was too much and not enough in the same breath. You’ve been warned.
To say that I loved this book doesn’t come close. This is hands down my favourite book of 2021. I might even go so far as to say that it’s in my top 3 favourites of all time. This was sheer perfection in every aspect. T.J Klune – you are a master. And thank you for the experience!
Until next time, happy reading!