Wallace Price is dead. And frankly, he’s pretty pissed off about that. Worse yet, no one seems to care that he’s dead. Instead of a packed turnout for Wallace’s funeral, only a handful of people come and none of them particularly liked him. When a reaper named Mei shows up, Wallace finds himself taken to a tea shop, operated by a Ferryman named Hugo. Wallace is supposed to process his untimely demise and then cross over. That’s how it works, except Wallace isn’t particularly inclined to go.
As the days pass, Wallace becomes accustomed to his new existence and discovers purpose in helping those around him. Coming to terms with the man he was and the ghost he has become takes effort, but being with Hugo, Mei, and Hugo’s grandfather, Nelson, brings Wallace a joy in death he never experienced in life. But this ghostly phase was only ever supposed to be temporary and there are forces beyond Wallace and Hugo’s control that will alter their eternities forever.
As an atheist, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what comes after death, but I always appreciate when the topic is explored by others, especially fiction authors. Under the Whispering Door offers a beautiful blend of memorable characters and a tender story about love and loss, all rendered with author T.J. Klune’s signature blend of heart and humor. I’m a vocal Klune fan, but I know some readers avoid his work because it can deal with some pretty emotional topics. So for those wondering, I would say Under the Whispering Door falls in the middle between The Lightening Struck Heart (which is laugh aloud fun) and Into This River I Drown (which requires a bulk order of tissues to get through). You’ll find lots of humor here, but you won’t be in the fetal position wracked with grief by the end.
Wallace and Hugo are part of what make Under The Whispering Door such a sweet and engaging read. Wallace is imperfect and arrogant, but his character evolves believably and with beautiful realism. Hugo somehow manages the balance between genuine goodness without being saccharine and I adored him because of his honest desire to help others. The secondary characters are equally strong and I found Mei and Nelson to be vital to the story; neither of them were relegated to being mere afterthoughts, which I thoroughly appreciated.
The plot is generally strong and I enjoyed the journey Wallace took as he discovered purpose and a measure of joy in death. There will be some readers, I think, that cry foul towards the end because it is a bit too neat, too easy. And I can appreciate that frustration, but personally, I enjoyed the way things were resolved. I can’t say more without getting into spoilers save that sometimes it’s okay to enjoy the simple and sweet.
I loved Under the Whispering Door. It was another slam dunk by author T.J. Klune and I think it’s a near perfect blend of his trademark humor and his emotionally charged writing style. Death is a difficult topic under the best of circumstances, but Under the Whispering Door offers those in the afterlife a kind of grace that we don’t often see given to the living. Consider this one highly recommended.