The List of Unspeakable Fears

The List of Unspeakable Fears
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Release Date
September 14, 2021
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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 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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Essie O'Neill keeps a list of everything she's afraid of. She didn't used to be so scared, but lately, it feels like she's constantly adding things to the list. When her mother remarries and they move to North Brother Island, home of a quarantine hospital run by her new stepfather, Essie finds even more things to be frightened of. Surrounded by pain and grief, Essie must learn to face her fears and discover that some things are worth being brave for.


1.) The anxiety representation- Since this is a historical novel, the understanding of anxiety disorders may not be what we have now, but that doesn't mean people didn't still have anxiety disorders. Essie's anxiety stems from a traumatic event, and she's not quite sure how to manage her fear. The author does an amazing job putting the reader in Essie's shoes and showing how scary living with anxiety can be.

2.) Essie and her family- Essie and her mother lost Essie's father a few years ago. Her new stepfather lost his wife and daughter a few years ago as well. Both groups are carrying grief and not always sure how to move on. Essie is understandably very apprehensive about her new stepfather, especially after all the rumors of missing nurses. Likewise, her stepfather isn't confident his parenting skills anymore, and this causes him to be distant. I love how this new family learns to listen to each other, to give each other the benefit of the doubt, and to let love back into their lives.

3.) The creepy setting- One aspect of this story that I really love is that the hospital isn't the main creepy setting; rather, the house is. While Essie is frightened of diseases in the hospital, the patients are never objectified or even shown that much. The real fear is in Essie's new house with it's scary red door, the bell that keeps disappearing, and the loneliness and isolation.

THE LIST OF UNSPEAKABLE FEARS is a historical mystery perfect for readers of Lindsey Duga and Lucy Strange.
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