Reed's Recommendation Corner: Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune


Cover for Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune. The cover has a house that has floors that are off center, with a forest in the background. There is the shadow of a deer overlooking the house. The text at the bottom reads "Death is only their beginning".B

What happens when you die? From the moment mankind developed the ability to speak, this has been the question on everyone's lips. What happens? Where do we go? Religions have tried to answer this question, philosophers have pondered it, science has tried to prove or disprove an afterlife. It's a fascinating, albeit morbid, topic. 

The other point of interest is whether the way you live your life matters for where you end up. 

This story delves into the death of one man, Wallace. He's a lawyer, a workaholic, cold and seemingly uncaring. He's retrieved at his funeral by a reaper, a spunky young woman called Mei. Wallace is retrieved by Mei at his sparsely attended funeral, where his ex-wife lists all of his faults and his former business partners are more interested in the next golf game than his actual death. Wallace follows Mei to a wonderfully weird house in the middle of the woods - a crooked house that serves as a bakery, a tea house, and a passage into what lies beyond death. 

Wallace meets Hugo, the person who helps spirits cross to the other side. Hugo's grandfather, Nelson, and the family dog (Apollo) who are both ghosts who stay with Hugo to help him with his work and teach spirits how to function in their new reality. Wallace is surly, unhappy, and completely unwilling to accept his death, at first. 

Despite all of his faults in life, Wallace begins to find beauty in the simple things. He watches Hugo and Mei work the tea shop, the gentleness Hugo shows to everyone (living and dead) who passes through the crooked house. He begins to change, to become a better man, despite his death. 

Most importantly, he starts falling love. 

The plot doesn't really feel linear - it's a slow brew like a good cup of tea. Wallace spends a lot of time thinking about his life and what he missed out on because he was a miserable man. He learns that even as a ghost, he can make a difference. In the process, he finds a family. 

This book isn't without conflict. Hugo and Mei have a Manager to answer to, and he demands results. He decides to give Wallace a week to finish up his business and move on. This need to pass on looms over the entire narrative - from his budding romance with Hugo to his change into a better man, he knows that eventually he will have to pass through the door into the next life. 

One of the best things about this novel is the positive representation of queer romance. Nothing "bad" really happens to either character, and their love grows from a mutual respect and bonding. I enjoyed that Wallace was bisexual and that he learns to love with all of his heart and without the coldness and callousness that carried him through life. 

This is definitely a very sweet, very deep read that made me cry just from characters hugging.