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.
“The first time you share tea, you are a stranger. The second time you share tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share tea, you become family.”
In true Klune fashion Under the Whispering Door is a book that deals with some big themes, gives us truly brilliantly written characters and ensures we get taken on a wild ride of emotions whilst reading. I know some people believe his books to be a little easy, a bit cliche and a tad too sweet but those are the things that make me LOVE these books. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a little drama, complicated characters and tension, but sometimes I just want a story that guarantees me a HEA, with characters that just make me want to crawl into the book and ask if I can join their ‘found families’, characters who make me laugh, cry and get irrationally angry in parts. You may be able to guess the ending of this book from the start, but boy is the journey worth it.
Wallace Price is a lawyer, and a slightly ruthless one at that, always putting himself and the firm ahead of anyone else, including his ex-wife. So when he dies of a heart attack and wakes up at his funeral, it’s only Wallace who’s surprised by the lacklustre attendance. The only person he doesn’t recognise turns out to be his Reaper, the person in charge of taking him to the ferryman whose job it is to prepare Wallace for what comes after. But Wallace isn’t quite prepared to go quietly, determined that Hugo, his ferryman, should be able to send him back to the life of the living. The more time Wallace spends with Hugo, Mei his reaper & Nelson and Apollo, Hugo’s grandfather and dog, the more he realises that he never truly lived, so when The Manager appears and informs Wallace that he has seven days to cross over, Wallace decides to try and live a lifetime in a week.
If there’s one thing that ensures my love of a book it’s well written characters and Under the Whispering Door has them in spades. Wallace isn’t overly likeable at first, a stereotypical Lawyer he is judgemental, argumentative and determined that something has gone wrong, he can’t possibly be dead, so if you could please just send him back it would be most appreciated. Similar to Linus Baker in The House in the Cerulean Sea, Wallace go’s through a rather big character growth arc in this book, we get to see him not only go through the stages of grief, but also come to realise that it was only after he died that he truly started living. His interactions with the other characters had me in tears, both from laughter and heartache in parts, but I loved seeing him come to realise that helping others is sometimes more important than helping yourself.
Hugo hasn’t got the easiest job ever, his role of ferryman is to prepare the dead for what lies beyond and, when they are ready, to send them through the Whispering Door into what awaits them, something that hasn’t always gone as peacefully as he would have liked. He carries the weight of his mistakes and is determined to do better, putting all his time and effort into making the decision to pass on as easy as possible. Mei isn’t what I would have envisioned a Reaper to be like, but if they exist I hope I get one like her. She quite easily admit’s that Wallace is her first ‘solo’ reap, something Wallace takes great offence too, and though she may be a bit on the nose in certain ways, she also has this ability to know what needs to be said and done to get the person to accept their fate. Nelson, Hugo’s grandfather, was one of my favourite characters. He’s not quite as diplomatic as Hugo and Mei when it comes to dealing with Wallace’s behaviour, but there is a lot Wallace can, and does, learn from him, not the least of all how to be a effective ghost.
Klune’s strength undoubtedly comes from his characters and their interactions with each other. Every single one of the above characters plays a significant part in Wallace’s growth, though in drastically different ways, and seeing him change from his casual indifference and annoyance to gradually grow to love them all was such a special and impactful journey. Klune never fails to create found families that I just desperately want to adopt me and between Wallace’s character growth, Hugo’s never ending patience and wicked sense of humour, Mei’s wit and quirky personality and Nelsons ability to annoy the heck out of you whilst teaching you a valuable life lesson, I just wanted to crawl into this book and join them in their antics.
Under the Whispering Door deals with grief but in a truly unique way. We have Wallace, not only grieving for the life he never got to live, but also for the lack of the life he did. Through his time with Hugo and crew Wallace realises that he never truly lived whilst he was alive, instead wasted his time making no true friends, being a huge dick to basically everybody in his life. When the Manager comes and tell’s Wallace that he only has 7 days before he needs to pass, we also get to see Wallace mourn the life he has been living as a ghost. The relationships he made, the live’s he changed and people he helped as a ghost add up to a life well lived and, although Wallace doesn’t want to go, he knows at least he managed to make some small but positive changes with the time he had. The question of ‘What come’s after death’ is one of life’s most asked and unanswered and, and Klune deals with this in a humorous and thought provoking way.
Under the Whispering Door is one of those books that will stay with me long after I finish it. Written with Klune’s typical wit and emotion, it’s a book that took me on a roller coaster ride of emotions and ensured that I never wanted it to end. Did it end a little easily? Yes, but even though I guessed at the ending, Klune still managed to make me bawl like a baby (happy tears I promise.) All I can say is, bring on the next one!