• The Bossy Bookworm

Review of Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune

Klune's newest novel is heartwarming, earnest, light, and sweet, with a vision of an in-between afterlife that is surprisingly romantic, redemptive--and centered around tea.

"...we have to let go, no matter how scary it can be."

I love an exploration of mortality, and in T.J. Klune's newest book, Under the Whispering Door, the author offers a heartwarming story that does just that.

Klune's story features the selfish, narcissistic, workaholic character of Wallace, who notices one day that things in his life seem awry--and who is beginning to suspect that he is in fact dead. In a nod to A Christmas Carol, the Scrooge-like beginning to the book shows the insufferable, lonely Wallace witnessing his own sparsely attended funeral and hearing cutting remarks about his own outrageous rudeness and significant shortcomings.

Before crossing over from the living forever, Wallace spends time in a mysterious in-between place (a tea house) in the form of a ghost and attempts to come to terms with his demise--and also possibly redeem himself a little bit before it's too late.

Klune, the author of The House in the Cerulean Sea, offers another whimsical, tender, light-LGBTQ-love story about finding your true self, recognizing what you love, and treasuring friends who feel as precious as family.

The inclusion, loyalty, and friendships here were heartwarming. The story's characters are full of love. Because even the grumpiest characters have soft, kind inner selves that emerge and act according to motivations that are often predictable, the characters often feel caricature-like. The book offers a handful of moments that felt too easy, and there's some significant repetition (for example, the idea of “you’re allowed to ask questions, it would be strange if you didn’t, and you're not supposed to know everything…but don't ask that question!”)

Much like The House in the Cerulean Sea, the tone of this book for adults was earnest and felt to me to be geared toward a more juvenile audience than the story (it is at heart an exploration of mortality and what might happen after death; sex is alluded to; and characters fall in love).

The first half of the book felt slowly paced and was spent with Wallace in limbo, being told how many things aren't known about the in-between state--and how little is known about what comes after. The last quarter of the book involved some transformation, action, and surprises, and the ending is very sweet.

Although the tones of the two books felt different, the explorations of mortality and redemption here reminded me somewhat of The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. If you're interested in memoirs that explore similar themes, check out the books on the Greedy Reading List Six Powerful Memoirs about Facing Mortality.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

Klune is also the author of The House in the Cerulean Sea, Wolfsong, and The Extraordinaries.

I received a prepublication digital edition of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Tor Books.