TJ Klune, author of BookTok favourite The House in the Cerulean Sea, is back with another whimsical tale filled with his trademark humour, peculiar characters, and profound lessons. This time, Under the Whispering Door (out Sept. 21) centres around the high-strung and by-the-book Wallace Price, who thinks corporate success is the key to happiness, even at the expense of his employees and his now ex-wife. When Wallace dies of a heart attack in his office one Saturday morning, he only realises he's dead when Mei, a reaper, comes to fetch his soul at his own (sparsely attended) funeral. From there, he's whisked away not to the afterlife, but to a ramshackle tea shop on the outskirts of a small village in the middle of the woods to meet Hugo, the shop's owner and ferryman who guides souls who need to cross over.
Unfortunately for Hugo and the other souls who reside at Charon's Crossing Tea and Treats, Wallace isn't ready to cross. In fact, it's only in death that Wallace realises he has a life worth living — especially after The Manager, a strange and god-like figure, gives him just seven days to live his (after)life and get his affairs in order before being forced through the door.
With the kind of year we've all had, who wouldn't want a book that turned their insides to goopy mush?
As Wallace comes to terms with his own death, he starts reflecting back on his life and realises the beauty of slowing down, opening up, and surrounding yourself with kindness, love, and friendship. With those newly acquired skills, he begins taking steps to change and improve other souls that need assistance before they can cross over, even if it costs him everything he's grown to love in a very short amount of time.
In just 22 chapters, I fell in love with Hugo, Mei, and Apollo, and learned to love and root for Wallace as he changed for the better. Klune has a remarkable knack for fleshing his characters out into strange, lovable creatures in a short amount of time, attaching them to your heartstrings, and then giving those strings a sharp tug.
Even though the plot of Under the Whispering Door was a bit predictable, I didn't mind — its cosy charm made me feel like I was sitting down with a book I've read and loved a million times over. After finishing it, the warmth of his plotlines and characters stuck with me for days after as I imagined Wallace, Hugh, Mei, and the other characters living their post-epilogue lives. And with the kind of year we've all had, who wouldn't want a book that turned their insides to goopy mush? You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll laugh through your tears — and even find yourself rooting for Wallace, too.
"It's life, Wallace. Even when you're dead, it's still life. You exist. You're real. You're strong and brave, and I'm so happy to know you."
Imagine you're in a cosy cottage in the woods while reading this. Grab your coziest blanket, a cup of your favourite tea, and get ready to settle in.
Read This If You Like . . .
Klune's other book, The House in the Cerulean Sea or loved watching Michael Schur's The Good Place — it weaves a similar thread of lovable characters trying to figure out how to live their best post-death lives.
POPSUGAR Reading Challenge Prompts
- A book that's published in 2021
- A book by an author that shares your zodiac sign (Taurus)
- A book where the main character works at your current or dream job (running a coffeehouse slash tea shop)
- A book set in a restaurant
- A book about do-overs or fresh starts
- A magical realism book
How Long It Takes To Read
Under the Whispering Door is 384 pages, but after a leisurely start I read the last 150 pages in a single sitting — I couldn't put it down.
Give This Book to . . .
Someone who loves BookTok recommendations, queer fiction, magical realism books, or anyone who wants a lighthearted take on death and grief.
Sweet Spot Summary
At its core, Under the Whispering Door ($24) is a story about grief, hope, and what it means to truly be "alive," told with Klune's ability to balance heavy topics with insightful and witty dialogue.