The Story That Cannot Be Told by J. Kasper Kramer

Book cover for middle-grade novel The Story That Cannot Be Told by J. Kasper Kramer“A powerful middle grade debut that weaves together folklore and history to tell the story of a girl finding her voice and the strength to use it during the final months of the Communist regime in Romania in 1989.

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.”

My Review

I love finding a read aloud that is entertaining and teaches about cultures, values, or history. The Story That Cannot Be Told did all three. Reading it as a family or class provides an excellent chance to talk about concepts of choice and individuality, how to treat others, and the role of government in our lives.

All my kids, except my toddler, found this book quite interesting. My second grader, Rebekah, stayed to listen most of the time but decided the book was just okay. The other children, fifth grade through college age, were eager to listen and even took turns reading aloud.

“It’s good for you to do things you don’t like,” said my father. “It makes you appreciate the things you like more.”

While the child Ileana’s story unfolds, it is interspersed with chapters from an enchanting fairytale about her namesake Princess Ileana. It soon becomes apparent that the fairytale mirrors the real story. This is not surprising as Ileana tells us she never tells a story the same way twice.

My children enjoyed looking for the foreshadowing elements. The tales are humorous and a little gruesome but mostly end happily for the important characters. Again, this mirrors the main story as there are some honest portrayals of the casualties in war. Thankfully, these do not include many gory details.

I did not like that Ileana lied to her parents and grandparents. She didn’t seem to learn anything about honesty. She did learn, however, to forgive, be brave, eat a wider range of foods, be grateful, and gained some wisdom. Henry wasn’t impressed with her more foolhardy choices though. (He thought you ought to know!) The value of family is an important concept in this book that I did appreciate.

“Your tataie doesn’t cook, but he doesn’t complain. I won’t be hearing it again at my table.”

The Story That Cannot Be Told reminds me in a lot of ways of The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak. They both have a serious tone mixed with subtle humor, a story within a story form, and death as a constant presence though death is not personified in J. Kasper Kramer’s tale. I only noticed one use of a biblical swear word, which is a marked improvement over the casual habit Rosa Hubermann uses in swearing at everyone in The Book Thief.

I’m glad we read this book as a family. We had some great discussions and learned a little about Romania. I hope J. Kasper Kramer writes more thought-provoking books balanced with traditional family values. Four stars read in my opinion.

I received a free advanced reader copy of this book. All opinions are completely my own.

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Book Links
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