The List of Unspeakable Fears – J. Kasper Kramer


The List of Unspeakable Fears – J. Kasper Kramer, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2021. 9781534480742

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4.5

Format: Paperback ARC

Genre: Historical fiction/mystery

What did you like about the book? Essie O’Neill is 10 years old when her mother remarries a doctor who works with the incurables on North Brother Island across from New York City. Essie loved her father, who died a few years previous, and misses him terribly.  She is convinced that her stepfather is an evil murderer.  And Essie has a list of all the things she is frightened of; it is a very long list.  She sets out to prove this corresponding to her would-be-detective friend back “home”.  It is true that some strange unexplainable things are occurring at the castle-like home Essie has moved into.  (Her previous home was a tenement where she and her mother shared one room.)  Essie finds child-size footsteps leading Out of the water when she goes to the shore. Her bedroom door mysteriously opens at night, even when locked and guides her to an old trunk in the attic that has the history of Dr. Blackcreek’s previous family.  Typhoid Mary lives on the island having been quarantined from the healthy on the mainland.  Essie fights her fears as she tries to solve the mystery of Dr. Blackcreek.

Essie and her father witnessed the tragedy of the ship the General Slocum where, in 1904, more than a thousand German immigrants perished, mostly women and children, on their way to an outing.  As is mentioned in an afterward – everyone knows of the Titanic disaster in 1912 where 1500 persons perished but hardly anyone knows about the tragedy of the General Slocum eight years previous.

The story wraps up nicely in a believable way.  All characters present as White.

Anything you did not like about the book?  No.

To whom would you recommend this book? This is a good one to offer to readers in grades 4 through 6 who like historical mysteries.

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries

Where would you shelve it? J Fiction

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Top one-third.

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Katrina Yurenka, Retired Librarian, Editor, Youth Services Book Review

Date of Review: September 1, 2021

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