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About The Book

The War That Saved My Life meets Coraline in this “deliciously creepy” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) middle grade historical novel 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.

About The Author

Photograph © Jessica Kasper Kramer

J. Kasper Kramer is the author of the acclaimed novel The Story That Cannot Be Told as well as The List of Unspeakable Fears and Eyes on the Sky. 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

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (September 14, 2021)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534480766
  • Ages: 8 - 12

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Raves and Reviews

* "Kramer has chosen an innately creepy setting. . . [and] delivers a thrilling read with poignant commentary on the value of immigrants’ lives and one’s capacity to become a stronger, better person."

– Booklist, Starred Review

* "Intricately and elegantly plotted, and full of vividly rendered details, Kramer’s 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."

– Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

"[A] suspenseful take on conquering fears, with a lesson on how first impressions can be very wrong. . . this is the perfect Halloween read."

– School Library Journal

"Readers who like ghost stories and mysteries will enjoy reading this book. . . Recommended."

– School Library Connection

Awards and Honors

  • Iowa Teen Award Nominee
  • Kansas NEA Reading Circle List Junior Title
  • NCTE Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts
  • Volunteer State Book Award Nominee (TN)
  • Georgia Children's Book Award Finalist

Resources and Downloads

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More books from this author: J. Kasper Kramer