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The List of Unspeakable Fears

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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 sil 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.


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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 sil 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.

30 review for The List of Unspeakable Fears

  1. 4 out of 5

    Irene

    Expected publication: September 14th 2021 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers Grade level ‏ : ‎ 3 - 7 Life as Essie knows it, in the cramped tenements of NYC is drastically changed when her mother announces that she has married a man that Essie has never even heard her mention before. As if that isn't enough to induce a panic attack she is also told she will have to pack her things, leaving her friends and her school behind to go live on an island where people with dangerously contagious illnesse Expected publication: September 14th 2021 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers Grade level ‏ : ‎ 3 - 7 Life as Essie knows it, in the cramped tenements of NYC is drastically changed when her mother announces that she has married a man that Essie has never even heard her mention before. As if that isn't enough to induce a panic attack she is also told she will have to pack her things, leaving her friends and her school behind to go live on an island where people with dangerously contagious illnesses are sent to quarantine. In fact she may even meet the dreaded Typhoid Mary. Essie is still grieving for her father and suffering the trauma of his death when she meets her new step father, an imposing figure with strange mannerisms who she begins to suspect of nefarious deeds. Strange goings on in the night may also mean that she is now living in a haunted house. Essie was a girl after my own heart, who suffers frequent nightmares and anxiety. In an odd coincidence I read this book on the anniversary of the tragedy in Little Germany, an incident that I had never even heard of until I read this book. When it was first mentioned I looked it up, and what I found tells me that what was later explained in the book was factually correct, always an important part of historical fiction for me is accuracy of the time period. This was a well researched work of historical fiction with a bit of spooky suspense and a lesson that without fear there is no such thing as bravery, Essie learns that being afraid is ok but that things almost never turn out as badly as we feared they would. Although this is listed as being for readers in grades 3-7 there is really no reason it can not be enjoyed by older readers. 5 out of 5 stars I received an advance copy for review.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Celia McMahon

    To say I'm a huge fan of J. Kasper Kramer is an understatement. Her debut book caught my eye in 2019 and has stuck with me since. At that time I was fairly new to reviewing books for sites like Netgalley and Edelweiss and of writing in debt reviews in general. Before that, they were all, "I love this book OHMYGOD so AMAZ." I haven't strayed far from my fangirl expressions of awe, but I have chosen to pick apart books a little better and get down to the nitty-gritty of why they were "so AMAZ." I w To say I'm a huge fan of J. Kasper Kramer is an understatement. Her debut book caught my eye in 2019 and has stuck with me since. At that time I was fairly new to reviewing books for sites like Netgalley and Edelweiss and of writing in debt reviews in general. Before that, they were all, "I love this book OHMYGOD so AMAZ." I haven't strayed far from my fangirl expressions of awe, but I have chosen to pick apart books a little better and get down to the nitty-gritty of why they were "so AMAZ." I was lucky enough to fangirl enough to get sent an arc by the author herself (and she signed it OMG SO AMAZ) and I literally cried when my elderly dog sat on the book and bent the cover. I can't get too mad at him since he's partially deaf and my baby, but his health has been declining. This book touches upon grief and the fears we sometimes carry with us. If I were to make a List of Unspeakable Fears I would add: losing my dog at the top. But we all know we are not immortal (although dogs should be) and that it's how we deal with our losses that truly define our lives. Essie is a fearful girl. She's cautious around almost everything and looks twice at unfamiliar people and things. Her anxiety only gets worse at night when she experiences night terrors. Her imagination runs wild when she suspects her new step-father is up to something. There are missing nurses on the island a strangely locked door in the manor she now shares with her mother. "How you feel still-being scared all the time that could be a sort of sickness too. But now that I understand it, I can help you." For Essie, it's not just overcoming her fears-it's controlling it. As someone with anxiety, you cannot simply tell them to get over it or to stop worrying. Essie suffered a huge loss and that stayed with her. Coping with that loss is something she needed, not someone to tell her to just stop feeling what she's feeling. This book is so important in that it portrays someone very real with a real illness that will not just go away, but with the right person to listen, it can ease her worries and I think that's what we all need: someone to listen. And this is especially true with children. They carry these things into adulthood and by the time, they've already lived with the problem so long that it feels almost natural. But if we can get to the root of the problem early on, we can save lives. I say this as a parent who wants nothing but the best for my child. "The List of Unspeakable Fears," I say. "It doesn't really fit anymore." "Why not? Sounds rather clever to me." "Yes, but things are different." I smile. "Now I can say them out loud." Overall, I enjoyed this book so much I may need to replace my bent paperback arc with a hardcover beauty for my shelf alongside THE STORY THAT CANNOT BE TOLD. I recommend this to middle-grade readers looking for a bit of a spooky read and to adults who need a reminder that a little bit of kindness and compassion goes a long way. We're all in this together.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Gillian

    Some authors are so brilliant at historical fiction—they create worlds from the past that are so seamlessly rendered and full of details, that there is no choice but to be fully immersed in them. Kramer is one of these authors. In this story we meet Essie, a fearful and anxiety-ridden girl who is moving from a tenement in the Bronx to North Brother Island, which houses the quarantine hospital for the incurable sick run by her new stepfather. But there is something unsettling about her new home ( Some authors are so brilliant at historical fiction—they create worlds from the past that are so seamlessly rendered and full of details, that there is no choice but to be fully immersed in them. Kramer is one of these authors. In this story we meet Essie, a fearful and anxiety-ridden girl who is moving from a tenement in the Bronx to North Brother Island, which houses the quarantine hospital for the incurable sick run by her new stepfather. But there is something unsettling about her new home (and stepfather) and it is up to Essie to figure out what is going on. This compelling book is perfect for readers who love atmospheric, spooky stories. The feelings of dread and anxiety are very real, and I think it is the author’s own experience with anxiety (author’s note) that lends the authenticity here. I love the message that without fear, there would be no such thing as bravery. I also think it would make a wonderful choice for a book club interested in exploring the times of another pandemic.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ms. Yingling

    E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus Interesting historical fiction set on North Brother Island, where "Typhoid" Mary Mallon was kept. Would go well with the nonfictional Jarrow's Fatal Fever and Bartoletti's Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America and the fictional Chibbaro's Deadly. I had a little bit of a problem believing that a girl raised in abject poverty at this point in history would have been allowed to be this fearful. E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus Interesting historical fiction set on North Brother Island, where "Typhoid" Mary Mallon was kept. Would go well with the nonfictional Jarrow's Fatal Fever and Bartoletti's Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America and the fictional Chibbaro's Deadly. I had a little bit of a problem believing that a girl raised in abject poverty at this point in history would have been allowed to be this fearful.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tonja Drecker

    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 starvati 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. I received an ARC and enjoyed being caught up in the time and mystery.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Andreea Zelenyak

    Perfect read for October!!!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tasha

    The author of The Story That Cannot Be Told returns with her second book for middle-grade readers. Essie is scared of a lot of things, so many things that she keeps a list of the things that scare her like cats, electric lights, closets, darkness, and doors. Her mother has remarried after the death of Essie’s father and the two move from where they live in poverty in the Bronx to North Brother Island where Essie’s new stepfather runs a hospital for those with incurable contagious diseases. Of co The author of The Story That Cannot Be Told returns with her second book for middle-grade readers. Essie is scared of a lot of things, so many things that she keeps a list of the things that scare her like cats, electric lights, closets, darkness, and doors. Her mother has remarried after the death of Essie’s father and the two move from where they live in poverty in the Bronx to North Brother Island where Essie’s new stepfather runs a hospital for those with incurable contagious diseases. Of course, Essie is also terrified of disease, and is particularly worried when she learns that Typhoid Mary is a resident of the island. Once on the island, Essie starts to see a girl her age and have nightmares about the red door that leads to the attic, which is just like the one that she has seen in her dreams for years. Essie must follow the clues to see if her new stepfather is conducting horrible experiments on his patients and who the girl is, a process that will force Essie to face all of her fears. This historical novel for middle-grade readers is a fascinating look at contagious diseases in the past. It is given particular weight given the Covid pandemic, adding to the tension and fears of the book. The setting of North Brother Island plays a large part in the story, giving it a gothic loneliness, foreboding mists, and a marvelous creepiness both due to its landscape and to its purpose as a quarantine hospital. Essie is a character who changes and grows as the book progresses. At first entirely paralyzed by irrational fears, she slowly reveals the grief and reasons behind her frights. Her willingness to face a ghost along the way, plays against her fearfulness and shows exactly who she is without her shame and grief clouding her world. It’s a complex rendering of a character that is immensely satisfying as she untangles the mystery she finds herself in. A creepy and ghost-filled read that also offers historical context of our current pandemic. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

    Essie is filled with anxiety in her life, and after experiencing the trauma of losing her father moves to a quarantined island for sick people when her mother remarries. The instant she arrives, she believes there is something more sinister going on and begins investigates her stepfather and what he isn't telling her. Plagued by nightmares, trailed by a mean cat and sights of a ghostly girl all contribute to Essie's eventual confronting of her stepfather and her fears. This story has a creepy el Essie is filled with anxiety in her life, and after experiencing the trauma of losing her father moves to a quarantined island for sick people when her mother remarries. The instant she arrives, she believes there is something more sinister going on and begins investigates her stepfather and what he isn't telling her. Plagued by nightmares, trailed by a mean cat and sights of a ghostly girl all contribute to Essie's eventual confronting of her stepfather and her fears. This story has a creepy element for readers who enjoy darker scares. This story could also be an empowering story for someone who struggles with crippling fears and anxieties.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Shelley

    Everything makes Essie fearful, and moving to North Brother island with her mam to live with her new stepfather, a doctor she believes is up to no good, where he runs the quarantine hospital for very contagiously sick people. This is part ghost story and part growing up, scary and heavy with grief. I loved it a lot. The author has an anxiety disorder, and the authenticity shines through absolutely everything. It's also hugely relevant with the pandemic, vaccinations, and not believing in the sci Everything makes Essie fearful, and moving to North Brother island with her mam to live with her new stepfather, a doctor she believes is up to no good, where he runs the quarantine hospital for very contagiously sick people. This is part ghost story and part growing up, scary and heavy with grief. I loved it a lot. The author has an anxiety disorder, and the authenticity shines through absolutely everything. It's also hugely relevant with the pandemic, vaccinations, and not believing in the science, like "Typhoid" Mary Mallon. I can't wait to recommend this one out, and add it to next year's grade list recs.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Gigi Griffis

    Another wonderful historical story from Kramer (if you haven't already, check out her first book as well!). This story follows Essie, a girl forced to move to North Brother Island to a creepy house where there just might be ghosts with a new stepfather she suspects of unspeakable acts and a list of her own unspeakable fears. She'll set out to solve a mystery and end up facing her fears - all against the backdrop of 1910s New York. I also found the depiction of anxiety spot-on and was not surpris Another wonderful historical story from Kramer (if you haven't already, check out her first book as well!). This story follows Essie, a girl forced to move to North Brother Island to a creepy house where there just might be ghosts with a new stepfather she suspects of unspeakable acts and a list of her own unspeakable fears. She'll set out to solve a mystery and end up facing her fears - all against the backdrop of 1910s New York. I also found the depiction of anxiety spot-on and was not surprised to learn in the end note that the author herself has an anxiety disorder. Kids with anxiety will see themselves in these pages.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kerri Martin

    I think the timing of reading this during a pandemic actually works in its favor and makes the book more interesting. Essie moves to an island where people with deadly diseases are quarantined, including Typhoid Mary. They are Irish immigrants and had been living in extreme poverty in NYC. Now, since her mom remarried the head doctor, they get to move into a real mansion on the island, but Essie has fears it is haunted. She slowly overcomes her fears, and learns the truth behind the hauntings. Y I think the timing of reading this during a pandemic actually works in its favor and makes the book more interesting. Essie moves to an island where people with deadly diseases are quarantined, including Typhoid Mary. They are Irish immigrants and had been living in extreme poverty in NYC. Now, since her mom remarried the head doctor, they get to move into a real mansion on the island, but Essie has fears it is haunted. She slowly overcomes her fears, and learns the truth behind the hauntings. You more often think of children in her situation at this time as scrappy and resourceful, but instead she has a list of fears a mile long. Maybe it might help kids today who have those fears and anxious feelings. It does have subtle nods to power of vaccines; Essie has been vaccinated, but her friend, whose parents are skeptical of the science behind it, is not. She also is fearful for her mother who is volunteering as a nurse to help those who are sick, which could be relevant to many kids today as well.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Veronica Legler

    This is a wonderful and timely book. Based 110 years ago, the lessons Essie learns are important for today’s children. The book teaches about overcoming fear, as well as shows the unavoidable fear people have when vaccines either aren’t available or others aren’t vaccinated due to distrust of the science. I’m excited to eventually read this with students. Thank you Edelweiss+ for the EARC!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Naomi Milliner

    This was such an exciting, suspenseful book. Every chapter ended with a bang, so I was forced to keep reading late into the night (with all the lights burning bright). Essie is a sympathetic character, who learns that you can only be brave if you are afraid. Her character arc is believable, and the supporting characters are well-drawn and three-dimensional. A very rewarding read.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kristine

    Great for fans of The War that Saved my Life, Nightingale Woods or Ophie’s Ghosts. Setting is NYC during the Typhoid Mary scare. Lots of family love with some ghostly adventure. Essie is a wonderfully robust character and the plot is engaging.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay

    The List of Unspeakable Fears was the perfect mix of history with the hint of a ghost story. Kramer did a fantastic job depicting Essie's anxiety and character growth as she solved the mysteries of North Brother Island. Thank you Edelweiss for an ARC. The List of Unspeakable Fears was the perfect mix of history with the hint of a ghost story. Kramer did a fantastic job depicting Essie's anxiety and character growth as she solved the mysteries of North Brother Island. Thank you Edelweiss for an ARC.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Joanna Bennett

    Thank you to the publisher and netgalley for an earc! Usually a book like this would be one that I enjoy but for a few reasons this one didn’t work for me which makes me sad. I like books that are set during a historical pandemic or epidemic. I have read much on the Tuberculosis pandemic and even though this is based around the Typhoid epidemic I thought it would still be interesting. I will say that there were new things I learned about like Typhoid Mary. I wanted to know more about her story aft Thank you to the publisher and netgalley for an earc! Usually a book like this would be one that I enjoy but for a few reasons this one didn’t work for me which makes me sad. I like books that are set during a historical pandemic or epidemic. I have read much on the Tuberculosis pandemic and even though this is based around the Typhoid epidemic I thought it would still be interesting. I will say that there were new things I learned about like Typhoid Mary. I wanted to know more about her story after and went to google her. It’s honestly pretty sad. There are also other historical tidbits included that involve immigrants and they were ones that I hadn’t heard about either. Another thing I liked was the talk about anxiety as it’s easy to see that Essie is dealing with it. She was relatable to me because of that as I also struggle with anxiety. The pacing for the book was on the slower side and I also had a hard time getting into the writing. Another issue was that I thought this would be more eerie/spooky but I found myself bored at times. I do understand that this is Middle Grade but I am quite the chicken and have read other spooky Middle Grade books that had me more entertained than this one. I think this is honestly where my disappointment lies and the biggest reason why I didn’t love the book. Overall, this was okay. I did learn a couple new things so that is always nice.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Karyn

  18. 4 out of 5

    Krista

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

  20. 4 out of 5

    China

  21. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

  22. 5 out of 5

    MayorEmma

  23. 5 out of 5

    Allison

  24. 5 out of 5

    Natalia

  25. 4 out of 5

    Anna

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kara

  27. 4 out of 5

    Erin

  28. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Henrikson

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nick

  30. 5 out of 5

    Martha

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