The first time you share tea, you are a stranger. The second time you share tea, you are an honored guest. And the third time you share tea, you become family.
I like to share with you books that I’ve especially enjoyed, and I recently read one that fits into that category: “Under the Whispering Door” by TJ Klune. TJ Klune, who almost always features gay protagonists in his novels, is one of my favorite authors, so I was super excited when this book came to my attention. Once again, he did not disappoint.
Under the Whispering Door is an otherworldly, heartwarming contemporary fantasy about finding yourself. It follows an unlikable, ruthless and driven lawyer named Wallace Price, who is more than a bit dismayed to find himself at his own funeral. Apparently, Wallace has died, and he is none too happy about it. His suspicions are confirmed when a reaper named Mei shows up to take Wallace to the next stage of his journey.
But instead of taking him to the afterlife, the Reaper brings him to a small tea shop in a remote village called Charon’s Crossing, where he meets a charming man named Hugo, the proprietor, who also happens to be the “Ferryman of Souls.” Hugo’s job is to help souls get ready for crossing over, which turns out not to be such an easy chore for the angry and bitter Wallace Price.
But, of course, anger and denial like Wallace’s isn’t anything new for Hugo — he’s seen it all before. But — he definitely has his work cut out for him as he attempts to lead Wallace out of the darkness and into a more gentle understanding of the mysteries of life.
So with Hugo’s gentle guidance — as well as that from Mei (the Reaper) and Hugo’s ghostly and mischievous grandad Nelson, Wallace begins to understand all that he missed from life, and his outlook slowly begins to change — especially once he learns that it’s never too late to start anew.
It was so delightful to see Wallace’s heart begin to warm as the other charming and quirky characters slowly got under his skin. I loved seeing him grow as a person, and as he did, the more likable and relatable he became. I was stunned by how much I grew to actually care about this formerly cruel and despicable character. My heart warmed to see him begin to form meaningful relationships (for the first time in his life) with the other characters in the book (including Apollo, the lovable ghost dog) and witness him making a genuine effort to become a better person.
The author deals with some pretty tough topics in the story, such as death, PTSD, suicide, and grief, all of which were handled compassionately and delicately. But additionally, the author’s familiar wit, humor, and charm shine through, resulting in a beautiful heartfelt story that is both moving and thought-provoking. While this is a hard-hitting story that’s at times sad and raw, it does teach some valuable lessons as the plot unfolds.
This is the kind of story that causes you to laugh out loud in some places and brings a tear to your eyes in others (at least, it did me), and I still find myself ruminating and contemplating it many days later. I love a good story about hope, redemption, and second chances, and that’s what we get here with this gentle tale. But, of course, I also love stories about the afterlife, so this one also ticked a box.
Now, I did read an advanced review copy of this book, so at the time of this post, the book has not yet been released. It is scheduled to be published on September 21 but is available now for preorder from online retailers.
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