- USD 10.99
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.
It is January 1910, and cued-white nine-year-old narrator Essie O'Neill and her Irish-born mother are moving from their tenement apartment to the island that houses New York City's quarantine hospital, joining Essie's new stepfather, the hospital director, in his lavish home. Essie, who has regular nightmares, "fully expect to perish" there; her beloved father's death still haunts her, and her new life will surely expose her to many of the items on her List of Unspeakable Fears an index including everything from "ravenous polar bears" to doors, fire, and "talkative strangers." The news that three nurses have recently gone missing from the island and the suspicion that her sinister-seeming stepfather is responsible gives Essie a focus for her anxiety (sensitively portrayed and discussed further in an author's note). Over the course of her investigation, she also discovers how fear can distort one's sense of reality, and that "being scared is the first step to being brave." Intricately and elegantly plotted, and full of vividly rendered details including appearances by Typhoid Mary Kramer's (The Story That Cannot Be Told) novel is a deliciously creepy ghost story with a mystery at its core and, given discussions about vaccines and contagion, special resonance for the current historical moment. Ages 8 12.