“Under the Whispering Door” by TJ Klune
Review by Seana Zimmer, adult services library assistant at the Hillsborough branch
TJ Klune does it again, making fantasy approachable in an engaging tale, this time using both humor and introspection to handle the question of what happens after death.
In “Under the Whispering Door,” specially chosen humans guide the newly dead to a peculiar teashop to wait in a ghost-form limbo. The newly dead must process their departure from our world and be ready to open the door to the next world. Pleasant voices seep under the door at the top of the house, beckoning people to cross into this bright white space. For some, this transition is quick and smooth, taking just a day or two. Others fight their fate, sometimes with drastic consequences.
The narcissistic main character, Wallace, is a rude, abrupt businessman, where his work is his world. Even as he watches his funeral, he is in disbelief that he was not loved and respected for his dedication to the firm. Wallace stays at the teashop house with his human guides, Mei the novice Reaper who gets lost and finally meets him at his funeral, and Hugo the Ferryman who runs the teashop as well as patiently guiding those in transition. The teashop is also home to Hugo’s deceased family dog and keen elderly father, who is often pulling pranks on Wallace while trying to teach him to be a ghost. During his lengthy stay, Wallace struggles to accept that his callous choices caused harm to others. In the busy teashop, he can do little but watch humanity flow. Lost souls from both worlds visit regularly, and Wallace witnesses interactions and feels emotions he’s long ignored. Slowly, he reflects on his life choices, and his personality begins to soften. What happens after Wallace’s death is just the beginning.