Thanks to partners NetGalley and Tor Books for the digital ARC of T. J. Klune’s Under the Whispering Door in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on September 21!
I cried my way through large portions of T. J. Klune’s Under the Whispering Door. While ultimately, I would call it a beautiful, hopeful book, it is also deeply, deeply sad. I mean, it is about death and the afterlife, so I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise, but I’m just putting that out there.
Here’s the setup: Wallace is a horrible Scrooge of a fellow who is financially successful but just a miserable human being. He’s basically alienated everyone with whom he’s ever had a relationship, but he doesn’t even recognize that because he’s so focused on work and power and money. In fact, he takes an odd sort of pride in being needlessly cruel.
Then, he dies suddenly of a heart attack. And all of those concerns that consumed his life and his time are gone.
The world he enters is populated by an eccentric crew: reapers—in this case, a reaper named Mei; a ferryman named Hugo; and the ghosts of Hugo’s grandfather Nelson and dog Apollo. Wallace is stuck in Hugo’s tea shop until he can accept his death and figure things out and be ready to cross through a mysterious door on the fourth floor.
The world building is more complex than I can or should cover, but there are fabulous conversations about Hugo and Mei’s responsibilities to the dead; about what matters in life; about who we choose to be when and if we have the chance to reconsider our choices.
I feel as if I should address a big question here since I’ve been raving about The House in the Cerulean Sea since I read it (and that’s a big reason I requested this book!): Under the Whispering Door is NOT The House in the Cerulean Sea, nor does Klune try to make it that book. I always feel as if the expectation game is so fraught, so when I go in with high expectations, I’m almost always disappointed. Did Whispering Door bring me to the giddy heights that Cerulean Sea did? No. But that’s okay. I still found myself thinking and smiling and crying. This book is a success all on its own merits, and for me, it survived the peril of comparison with one of my favorite books of the year.
Thanks to Partners NetGalley and Macmillan for the digital ARC of Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s Ace of Spades in exchange for an honest review. The book will be released on Tuesday, June 1.
I wasn’t very far in Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s Ace of Spades when I started to realize that something really strange was happening with the characters. Some of the pieces of this YA novel are familiar from other books about the power of privilege and the difficulty of navigating systems of power as an outsider, but other parts are wholly original.
There’s a predominantly white private academy with a few key student honors for Senior Prefects. The narrative focuses on two students, the only Black students in their grade: Chiamaka Adebayo who has been forging a path to the top of her class, of the social scene, of every extracurricular, since she was a freshman; and Devon Richards who tries to stay as invisible as possible, banking on his talent as a musician to pave his way (and his family’s way) out of poverty.
On the first day of their senior year, they attend the opening assembly with a new headmaster and find out the prefects. It’s no surprise that Chiamaka is named Head Prefect, but everyone is shocked when Devon receives one of the other Prefect spots. This is not part of the plan, and this initial contrast between Chiamaka’s confident acceptance of what she sees herself as being owed and Devon’s complete shock was immediately compelling.
Chiamaka is surrounded by people, but they’re not really friends (at least mostly). Instead, she has a series of transactional relationships that help her to maintain her popularity—maybe her “popularity”—while doing the same for them. The one exception is Jamie, her absolute best friend . . . and the guy she’s had a crush on forever. Finally, she thinks it’s time for them to define their relationship differently. Devon, conversely, is a loner. He has one person, Jack, who has been his friend for a long time, but lately, that friendship seems to be based more in memory than in reality. Àbíké-Íyímídé develops these characters effectively as she shows how they are both so alone but in different ways.
Clearly, Chiamaka and Devon are complete opposites. The only things they have in common are their race AND that they each have secrets that could ruin all of their plans. So when someone who goes by the moniker Ace of Spades starts sharing those secrets with the entire student body, Chiamaka and Devon are drawn to each other for support and to work together to solve the mystery.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which earns its comps to Get Out. It took me a few chapters to be pulled in completely, but once the plot started unfurling, I couldn’t wait to pick up this book, which was just wild. Àbíké-Íyímídé writes the book in chapters that alternate between Chiamaka’s and Devon’s points of view, which amped up the suspense as I tried to piece together the real story behind the sabotage. The author addresses issues of race, sexuality, privilege, and class, all while developing two complex characters and a thrilling plot.
Thanks to Partner NetGalley and Wednesday Books for the digital ARC of Dahlia Adler’s Cool for the Summer in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, May 11.
Lara returns to high school after a summer break away in the Outer Banks to her dream-come-true: Chase Harding is noticing her. She’s had a crush on him forever, and though he’s always been friendly and kind (one of the qualities she most admires about Chase), he’s never really noticed her before.
She’s thrilled. Really. She and her three best friends giggle and scheme, reveling in one of their own getting her wish.
But then Jasmine walks into her school, and Lara is taken back to summer and to the friendship—and maybe more?—she had with Jasmine.
It’s a great, compelling setup, but nevertheless, I was a little bit worried that I wouldn’t love this one. I wasn’t sure I could empathize with Lara or dig into the love triangle. But Adler masterfully shifts back and forth, unveiling both the story of Lara and Jasmine’s summer AND the journey through Lara’s year at school when she tries to navigate what happens when your dream isn’t so dreamy anymore.
I thought these characters were compellingly flawed, and I genuinely liked the complexities of Lara’s friends, of Chase, and, of course, of Jasmine. Lara’s working through of her identity is all-too-believable, and I appreciated that Adler didn’t provide easy answers to who Lara should be. Dahlia Adler’s Cool for the Summer is a strong, thoughtful YA romance that breaks the mold of anything I’ve read lately.
I'm Jen Moyers, co-host of the Unabridged Podcast and an English teacher.