Review: The Storyteller by Kathryn Williams

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss+ in exchange for my honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book in any way.

Publisher: HarperTeen
Published: January 2022
Pages: 368


With the mystery of Maureen Johnson and Brittany Cavallo and the historical intrigue of Romanov, this enthralling story follows a teenage girl’s quest to uncover the truth behind her secretive great aunt Anna, who just might be the long lost Russian princess Anastasia.

It’s not every day you discover you might be related to Anastasia…or that the tragic princess actually survived her assassination attempt and has been living as the woman you know as Aunt Anna.

For Jess Morgan, who is growing tired of living her life to please everyone else, discovering her late aunt’s diaries shows her she’s not the only one struggling to hide who she really is. But was her aunt truly a Romanov princess? Or is this some elaborate hoax?

With the help of a supremely dorky, but undeniably cute, local college student named Evan, Jess digs into the century-old mystery.

But soon Jess realizes there’s another, bigger truth waiting to be revealed: Jess Morgan. Because if she’s learned anything from Aunt Anna, it’s that only you can write your own story.

Part mystery, romance, and historical fiction, this genre-bending YA will pull readers into one girl’s journey of discovering the impossible tale of a long-lost aunt—and through her, the importance of being true to yourself.

My Thoughts…

I’ve been fascinated by the story of Anastasia and the Romanov family ever since I first saw the cartoon version as a child, so I was very curious to see how it would be tackled in The Storyteller.

The premise is very interesting, even if perhaps a little far-fetched: while helping her mother clean out the attic of her late Aunt Anna, aspiring writer and dedicated student Jess finds a trunk full of what look to be old diaries, entirely written in Russian. After enlisting a local college student to help her translate these, Jess is shocked to discover that, according to the diaries, her aunt was none other than Princess Anastasia.

Suspending all disbelief and logic for the purposes of enjoying the book (otherwise I would have to seriously question the likelihood of a presumed-dead, world-famous princess fleeing to a different continent with a truck full of diaries and managing to somehow hold onto them for decades), I actually enjoyed reading snippets of the diaries and following Anna’s story. It’s clear the author did their research, and a lot of detail and information on the Romanovs, their lives and deaths, were included in the book.

I also really liked the way a parallel was drawn between Anna/Anastasia and Jess, and how this led Jess to a deeper reflection on perfectionism and people-pleasing, and just how much of herself she is willing to hide or compromise just to meet other people’s expectations. This is such an important topic, and I’m glad it got some space here even though it could have been expanded on so much more than was actually done.

This is also where my main issue with this book was. Jess has the potential to be a really interesting character and act as a bridge between past and present, but she just fell flat. She comes across as a very generic teenage character and, to be honest, annoyed me for most of the book as I never really got a sense of who she was. The rest of the cast was equally one-dimensional and forgettable, and there really wasn’t much driving the book beyond the mystery of the diaries.

I did like where the ending went and the fact that the events surrounding the Romanov family were dealt with in a sensitive manner. As I mentioned above, the author’s formidable research work shines through, and I think it makes all the difference. I also liked Jess’s character growth, even though it felt as if its foundations were missing due to the problems I mentioned.

Still, The Storyteller is a quick and easy read offering an original take on the story of Anastasia with a strong historical foundation and an important message about discovering and being true to yourself.

Rating: 3/5

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