Saturday, September 11, 2021

Review: The List of Unspeakable Fears by J. Kasper Kramer

And here it is! I meant to get to this one yesterday but had to hold it back a day, since I didn't quite get done reading it. 

I loved the cover on this one and the surmise won me over. But then, I'm a sucker for little known, historical events and darkish tales.

Ready? Then, let's move on! 

by J. Kasper Kramer
Middle Grade Historical
ages 8 to 12


The War That Saved My Life meets Coraline in this chilling middle grade historical novel from the author of the acclaimed The Story That Cannot Be Told following an anxious young girl learning to face her fears—and her ghosts—against the backdrop of the typhoid epidemic.

Essie O’Neill is afraid of everything. She’s afraid of cats and electric lights. She’s afraid of the silver sick bell, a family heirloom that brings up frightening memories. Most of all, she’s afraid of the red door in her nightmares.

But soon Essie discovers so much more to fear. Her mother has remarried, and they must move from their dilapidated tenement in the Bronx to North Brother Island, a dreary place in the East River. That’s where Essie’s new stepfather runs a quarantine hospital for the incurable sick, including the infamous Typhoid Mary. Essie knows the island is plagued with tragedy. Years ago, she watched in horror as the ship General Slocum caught fire and sank near its shores, plummeting one thousand women and children to their deaths.

Now, something on the island is haunting Essie. And the red door from her dreams has become a reality, just down the hall from her bedroom in her terrifying new house. Convinced her stepfather is up to no good, Essie investigates. Yet to uncover the truth, she will have to face her own painful history—and what lies behind the red door.



History comes to life in a world of fear, harsh circumstances, and little hope...until that tiny glimmer shines.

Essie comes home from school to find her mother already packed to leave to a new home with a step-father she's never met. Worse yet, the he's a doctor, who lives on the island, where patients with extremely contagious diseases are sent and quarantined. Essie doesn't get why her mother is doing this, although since the death of her father, they've been teetering on the brink of starvation. The island poses many dark secrets, all things to add to Essie's ever growing list of unspeakable fears. But when she sees the red door from her dreams, she's sure the true nightmare is about to begin.

It's always a treat to pick up a well-done, historical novel, and this one definitely fits that bill. The world is so vivid, making it easy to slip right into the time period...and that without the information or description dumps, which can bore. The island and circumstances are little known facts (something I always love discovering) and all of this molds seamlessly into the tale of Essie as she discovers shadows, creepy moments, and haunting secrets. There's never a boring moment, and there are plenty of surprises. 

The scenes and characters sit so well and add tons of life to the story, whether it be bad or good. It's hard to tell, who harbors evil intentions and who can truly be trusted. Add in the social issues of the time, and it's interesting for school groups and homeschoolers, too.

While the writing flows nicely for the age group and makes for an enjoyable read, I simply wish I could have connected a bit better with Essie because it would have made this an amazing read. Her character is not only afraid of everything and acts as if even a crack is out to get her...and this was strange to me considering she grew up and lived in very harsh conditions...but especially in the beginning, she simply isn't nice to barely anyone about anything. A little kindness or shine of a good heart would have gone a long way.

But this is still an amazing read, and I can recommend it.

And here she is...

J. Kasper Kramer is the author of the acclaimed novel The Story That Cannot Be Told as well as The List of Unspeakable Fears. She’s an author and English professor in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She has a master’s degree in creative writing and once upon a time lived in Japan, where she taught at an international school. When she’s not curled up with a book, Kramer loves researching lost fairy tales, playing video games, and fostering kittens. Visit her at

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