TJ Klune, you’ve done it again. Last year’s The House In The Cerulean Sea earned a perfect score for its unique blend of heart, charm, and signature Klune quirk. This year’s Under the Whispering Door tells me, simply, that Klune is a master of his craft, and that he should skyrocket straight to the top of anyone’s TBR. Though Whispering Door is only my second Klune book, he has a large library of work beloved by numerous fans.
I know this question will inevitably pop up, so I’m going to answer it right away. Is Under the Whispering Door anything like The House in the Cerulean Sea? After all, the cover style is similar. This begs for a more complex answer than I have the space to give, so I’ll say this. If you loved Cerulean Sea, I’m confident you’ll love Whispering Door, too. They are at once cut from the same cloth and distinct works of art. And for me, they’ll enjoy a tandem spot on the Chateau Rush library’s favorites shelf. Plus, Klune drops a few easter eggs for Cerulean Sea fans in this book.
Wallace Price, by most measures, is a terrible person. He runs his law firm with an iron fist, firing people for minuscule mistakes and smiling through the entire conversation. He makes time for work and only work, clacking away at his keyboard far beyond the hour when a normal person would sign off. Imagine his surprise, then, when he finds himself a ghost at his own funeral a few days after a heart attack takes his life. In his ghastly form, Wallace meets Mei, a reaper who will take him to a waystation where Hugo, a ferryman, will help him come to terms with his death and eventually guide him as he “moves on.”
The story that follows, the story of Wallace Price coming to terms with his death and finding friends he never could have made in his work-addled life, struck me to my absolute core. When I turned the final page, the waterworks began, and they didn’t stop for a full 10 minutes. Books have made me cry before, but no other novel has thrummed on my heartstrings the way this one did.
I hated Wallace Price from the start, even though I had a guess as to where his character was going. When Mei brings Wallace to Hugo’s tea shop (which exists in the real world while harboring spirits awaiting the next step), Klune’s sincere charm takes full hold and never lets up. Whispering Door unleashes a series of interconnected vignettes and introduces characters that all have their own distinct relationship with death. As Wallace learns about them, he predictably begins to soften, connecting with Hugo, Mei, and Nelson (Hugo’s ghost grandfather, who’s been around for a while since passing) on levels previously unimaginable to his limited lawyer psyche. It’s a wonder to watch Wallace grow, because Klune makes it obvious that the character is undergoing an emotional journey. I hated Wallace at first because I felt like I was meant to, but I saw the seeds Klune had planted and began to appreciate the man for what he would become, rather than hating him for what he was.
If you’re reading this review, I want you to know one thing. I wish I could talk to you as you read this novel. I wish I could explore the deeper themes within and discuss your relationship with death, your experiences dealing with it. Because Under the Whispering Door sparked an introspection in me that so few books ever have. It spurred me to think about the attempted suicide of a family member, and how grateful I am that she’s still here. It made me miss the family members who have moved on by remembering the moments that made me love them so dearly. It summoned memories of my grandmother playing Clair De Lune on her piano while I was home for a week-long break from college. It made me want to play the same piano, now sitting in my house, to remember how much she loved to make music. Whispering Door asked me to grapple with death on my own terms, and only when I was ready. I started while I was reading, and I’m still examining my relationship to the unknown weeks after finishing the book.
And this is all thanks to TJ Klune, who has crafted a perfect story. It’s a story that invites you to look inward but doesn’t force you. And if you aren’t ready, you can bathe in the shining rays of the lovely moments encased in Whispering Door’s pages. Because this book can be whatever you need it to be. Whether that’s a mirror sparking self-reflection, a nudge toward the acceptance of tragedies in your past, or just a wonderful, heartwarming book about finding the love you may have otherwise missed–well, that’s up to you.