Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune

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.


I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.


I adored TJ Klune’s The House on the Cerulean Sea so I was more than excited to hear that he’d be writing another book written in a similar style (this is not a sequel, as I learned embarrassingly late). To be totally honest, from the premise alone, this isn’t the type of book I’d usually gravitate to. But Cerulean Sea wasn’t either, and it was only at the prompting of *checks notes* my entire blogging circle that I picked it up, and hey, I loved it. So it only seemed fitting to give this one a chance. Yeah, I loved it.

Under the Whispering Door is a book about grief, loss, and acceptance, held comfortably with a warm mug of your favorite tea. We follow Wallace Price, an objectively terrible, who dies of a heart attack and is forced to confront the fact that he was, in fact, a terrible human being. Dragging Accompanying him on this journey are Reaper Meiying, or Mei for short, definitely-just-a-man-who-owns-a-tea-shop Hugo, plucky grandfather who’s annoyingly always correct Nelson, and dog, Apollo. It’s really a testament to Klune’s writing and characterization skills that for someone who starts as objectively unlikeable as possible, Wallace is a pretty cool character by the end.

The storytelling of this book is very slice-of-life like, which generally isn’t a genre that works for me. I read the first 40% in chapters snuck in during moments of free time so it wasn’t particularly apparent yet, but between the 40%-60% marks, I did find myself getting constantly distracted. Certainly not the books fault, but it was still early in Wallace’s journey and I wasn’t fully clicking with the characters or story. Reading about tea shops and warm mugs of tea are comforting but something wasn’t connecting for me. The characters were sweet, their day-to-day actions were cute, but it just wasn’t gripping me.

And then I started crying. I think about the 72% mark? It was during a pretty mundane event I think, some line about Mei baking scones while Wallace puttered around the customers, no deep discussions about Wallace’s grief or understandings with death. But all of a sudden my eyes were wet and I couldn’t control the tears. Something, at some point, one of Wallace and Hugo’s many talks about Wallace’s emotions of how various characters were dealing with the death of a loved one, finally got to me and I couldn’t stop crying, couldn’t stop memories flooding back of times I’d gone through the stages of grief myself, the actions I took during that process.

Overall, I rate this book a 4.5/5. The messaging about grief, about loss and acceptance in this book is delightfully poignant. It meanders and it takes its time, sometimes doubling back and winding in strange ways, but that’s how the stages of grief works. Klune manages to capture those emotions, those feelings of loss and joy, sometimes hitting you at the strangest moments, just perfectly. An absolutely delightful story.

r/Fantasy 2021-22 Bingo Squares:

  • Found Family (hard mode)
  • Comfort Read
  • Published in 2021
  • Genre Mashup (fantasy, slice-of-life, romance)

Publication Date: 21 September 2021
Publisher: Tor Books
Format: ebook, ARC
Pages: 384
Word Count: ~120,000
ISBN: 1250217342
Buy It Here: AmazonGoogle Books | Barnes and Nobles | Goodreads

3 thoughts on “Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune

  1. I was sitting her comfortably not worried about impeding book shortage because I’d already gotten all the books I wanted in print this year … how could I forget how badly I need this?

    Liked by 2 people

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