The Story That Cannot Be Told
J. Kasper Kramer, Author
Atheneum Books for Young Reader, Fiction, Oct. 8, 2019
Suitable for Ages: 8-12
Themes: Romania, History, Revolution, Folktales, Family life, Writers, Courage
Opening: “Once upon a time, something happened. If it had not happened, it would not be told.”
Book Jacket Synopsis:
Ileana has always collected stories. Some are about the past, before the leader of her country, tore down her home to make room for his golden palace; back when families had enough food, and the hot water worked on more than just Saturday nights. Others are folktales like the one she was named for, which her father used to tell her at bedtime. But some stories can get you in trouble, like the dangerous one criticizing Romania’s Communist government that Uncle Andrei published — right before he went missing.
Fearing for her safety, Ileana’s parents send her to live with the grandparents she’s never met, far from the prying eyes and ears of the secret police and their spies, who could be any of the neighbors. But danger is never far away. Now, to save her family and the village she’s come to love, Ileana will have to tell the most important story of her life.
Why I like this book:
J. Kasper Kramer’s The Story That Cannot Be Told is gripping and haunting, powerful and hopeful. The tempting title and perfect opening line beckon readers to enter Illeana’s world. Once they begin, they won’t be able to put this novel down.
It is set in Romania in the 1980s, when communist leader, Nicolae Ceausescu, terrorized his country to control them. His secret police, the Securitate, enlisted ordinary people and kids to spy on their neighbors, friends and family. There is greed, death, starvation and brutality under his regime.
The characters are multi-layered and complex. Illenia is smart and courageous. Like her missing Uncle Andrei, Illenia is a writer and storyteller. She’s named after a character, Cunning Ileana, in a Romanian folktale that her father tells her at bedtime. This tale is woven throughout the novel. Illenia has written a collection of stories, poems, and folktales, that she’s compiled in her Great Tome. Most of them are harmless, but a few stories reveal truths that could get her family in serious trouble. Her father becomes fearful for his daughter’s safety, burns her tome and sends her to her grandparent’s farm village high in the mountains. Life there is backwards and operates at a slower pace. She dislikes her new environment at first. Illenia makes a new friend, Gabi, and learns that the village may soon be overtaken by the Romanian Army. She and Gabi make a plan to save the townspeople’s property.
Kramer’s original debut novel is a collection of folklores, memories, research, and fairy tales, that she beautifully weaves together into this unforgettable story that is part fact and part fiction. It is a story that will remain with you because of the profoundly human characters, thrilling and dangerous plot and the worthwhile ending. It is an excellent discussion book for teachers to use in the classroom, because it’s a part of history many students aren’t likely to know. It is very relevant today.
Resource: Make sure you read the Prologue at the beginning and the Author’s Note at the end. Visit Kramer at his website.
J. Kasper Kramer is 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, she loves researching lost fairy tales, playing video games. and fostering kittens.
*Reviewed from a library copy.