Special thanks to NetGalley and Tor Books for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
This was a buddy read with the wonderful Leslie @ Books are the New Black and I’m so glad we read it together! We sped through the book in less than two days and we both laughed, cried and surprisingly, also had the same thoughts and feelings about the ending! Definitely a fun one to read together 😊
Goodreads: Under the Whispering Door
Publisher: Tor Books
Publish Date: 21 September 2021
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Light Fantasy
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.
PRE-ORDER A COPY:
Note: The quotes below are taken from an advanced/unfinished copy and are subject to change in the final version.
TL;DR: TJ Klune has such a knack for writing books that are cosy and feel like warm hugs while also being able to shatter your feelings, and this book delivered all of that in spades! I had some long and loud laughs but it also tore at my feelings and had me ugly crying for… a good chunk of that ending. Safe to say, this was quite the emotional journey but I honestly didn’t expect it’d be anything different! If you enjoy Klune’s charming writing, witty humour, and endearing characters, then I have no doubt that you will enjoy this book. I want more of Hugo, Wallace, Mei, Nelson, Apollo and Charon’s Crossing Tea and Treats, please!
CW/TW: Death of a parent, death of a child, suicide, murder (stabbing), car accident
“We live and we breathe. We die, and we still feel like breathing. It’s not always the big deaths either. There are little deaths, because that’s what grief is.”
Considering that The House in the Cerulean Sea was my favourite read of 2020, I went into this book with fairly high expectations and anticipation. This was a real slow-burn of a story but with it’s simple and compelling writing, it was still a relatively quick and easy read. There were moments when the writing did more “telling” than “showing”, which made it feel a bit clunky and detached at times, but the story is infused with TJ Klune’s witty and humorous charm, and I loved it!
Fitting with the pace, I felt this was more of a ‘quiet’ story—it’s not flashy but it’s full of heart and it creeps up on you with a grounding sort of comfort. I wouldn’t necessarily say this was uplifting either but it does explore worthwhile topics like death, loss and grief, and poses questions such as what does it mean to be alive, what constitutes a well-lived/fulfilled life and how to cope with death. The story has platitudes aplenty about living your best life, being kind to others and being the best person that you can be, and I have to admit that there was little subtlety in the telling. But while I don’t think it introduced anything new or groundbreaking to the discussion I personally had no problem with that and still managed to thoroughly enjoy the story for the cheesiness it does bring.
“She brightened. “Oh, and I’m your Reaper, here to take you where you belong.” And then, as if the moment wasn’t strange enough, she made jazz hands. ‘Ta da.'”
What made my enjoyment of this story so full however was the amazing cast of characters that Klune brings to life. They are quirky and endearing and they wormed their way into my heart so quickly! I took some notes while reading and 90% of them were variations of: “OMG STAHP I LOVE THESE CHARACTERS SO MUCH!!!” (I’m not even kidding lol.) The found family trope is one of my all-time favourites and there is big found family energy in this that makes it so easy to feel invested in these characters and their stories. Wallace, Hugo, Mei, Nelson and the adorkably clumsy ghost-doggo, Apollo, tugged so hard on my emotional strings. They had me laughing and crying and all I wanted was to hang out at the tea shop and be friends with them.
“We’re here to make sure they see that life isn’t always about living. There are many parts to it, and that it continues on, even after death. It’s beautiful, even when it hurts.”
Hugo was such a soft, empathetic cinnamon roll who lived for tea and to do his best to help those who’ve passed to cross over. Mei is a reaper who brings souls to Hugo and I loved her so much from the moment we meet her. She’s loud and hilarious and so full of life that it just beams off the pages! Much like Wallace, Nelson and Apollo are ghosts and semi-permanent residents of Charon’s Crossing Tea and Treats. Nelson is Hugo’s grandfather and I loved this man so freaking much! He was fun-loving, mischievous and delightfully cheeky, as many endearing grandfatherly characters are. Being so big-hearted, generous and patient made all the characters complete opposites of Wallace, but in finding himself surrounded by them, it was great to see him come to the realisation that being kind and selfless reaps greater rewards than being cold and cruel, and that perhaps being surrounded by love and warmth is better than having everything and still, nothing. The romance between Wallace and Hugo was also heart-achingly sweet. It’s a slow burn that grows steadily from wary strangers, to steady friendship and builds up to a great love. Their inability to interact normally created a feeling of such bittersweet longing and oh, my. They were easy to ship!
“If this is a way station, if this is just one stop on a journey, you’re the better part of it.”
Although the plot was predictable and it was clear where the story was heading, I was still a little disappointed that it ended the way it did. I know a lot of people will love it and I probably would’ve too had I read this a few years ago because who doesn’t want that well-rounded happy ever after? However, I felt that it was just too neat and simple (idealistic even?) and in a way I felt that it even took away some of the story’s power. But did it stop me from being completely emotionally devastated? No. Was I still quietly ugly crying into my pillow at 2AM and wondering how I could make it all hurt less? Yes! Did it still leave me wanting moremoremore of these characters and other stories from the Charon’s Crossing Tea and Treats shop? Abso-freaking-lutely!
Have you read Under the Whispering Door or is it on your TBR?