Under the Whispering Door, by TJ Klune, is the story of Wallace Price, a big shot lawyer who suddenly dies and discovers that there is an afterlife of sorts. He attends his own funeral before meeting a reaper who leads him to a faraway tea shop in the woods where he has to meet Hugo, a ferryman who helps souls to cross over.
Naturally, this leads to many problems as even when dead there's still the stages of grief, starting with denial. Sure, he's attended his own funeral, but that doesn't mean that Wallace is ready to accept that he's actually dead. Wallace, with the help of Hugo, discovers that there was a lot more to life than he realised, that he didn't have to be an absolute cock and that he could have actually been happy in life.
The cast is pretty diverse, with white, black and Asian and queer representation and Wallace's reaper Mei is particularly great. Most of the funniest moments involve her and as a reaper, she has a particularly neat trick where she can switch between touching alive beings to being able to touch dead beings - something that Hugo cannot do in his job as a ferryman where he can see and interact with dead people but not physically touch. The humour is where this book really shines and as mentioned, a fair bit revolve around Mei's interactions either with Wallace or others. You wouldn't think a book about death could be quite so funny, but here we are. Mixed in with that though are some real heartfelt moments and parts that give you pause to think.
On top of all that, this is also a book about finding love, even when dead. This was one of the parts I was less keen on as it all seems to happen quite fast. Falling in love that quickly just left me thinking "damn, that was quick". Although there's a lot of soul searching, or therapy as Wallace calls it, so Wallace and Hugo got to know each other quite well in a short space of time. Still a bit quick though. Same with Wallace's change from complete asshole to trying to be good, although that could just be the effect of being dead...
One part I didn't like initially was Wallace acting like a child and threatening to haunt someone that Hugo and Mei didn't like. I say initially because when I thought about it later on during a break in reading I realised that it's exactly something that I'd do if given the chance, but it still felt out of character for Wallace given all that you know about him up until that point and even afterwards. Just a moment of silliness that didn't have any kind of action similar at any other point from him. It's a little thing though and the fact that it's exactly what I'd have done just for a laugh means that it didn't bother me for long.
UNDER THE WHISPERING DOOR is bizarre, unconventional, funny, heartfelt and well written. It surprised me, cracked me up and made me want more. It takes something horrible (death) and makes it into something that isn't heavy and depressing, into a new beginning where the dead can make peace with themselves and their life before moving on to whatever is waiting for them in the afterlife. Every character shines, particularly when interacting with others. The ending is a tad predictable when you get to it, which makes me wish TJ Klune went in the other direction for another tug at the heartstrings moment, but it's one of those books where that's not important. It's all about the journey to that moment and it's quite a ride - one that I'm glad I read as it was a nice change of pace from my usual reading.