The Storyteller

Kathryn Williams. HarperTeen, $17.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-304939-0

Making a persuasive point about the hazards and temptations of impostorhood, Williams (Pizza, Love, and Other Stuff That Made Me Famous) interweaves two tales in this gently propulsive romance. An aspiring writer in 2007, contemporary narrator Jess Morgan, 17 and cued as white, feels pressure to live up to her appearance-oriented mother’s rigorous academic expectations while simultaneously cultivating a cool-girl facade for her popular boyfriend. Story line number two comes into play when Jess encounters a cache of journals that belonged to her deceased great-great-aunt Anna, and hires geeky, cute pale-skinned college student Evan Hermann to translate them from the original Russian. The pair soon finds that the journals are written from the point of view of Anastasia Romanov, the believed-executed daughter of Russia’s last czar. The subsequent telling alternates between the duo’s modern-day sleuthing and translated journal excerpts from a century back that provide a beguiling chronicle of Anastasia’s life as an indulged royal, then a prisoner with her family, and later as a destitute political pawn on the run. As the story behind the diaries eventually becomes clear, it confirms Jess’s decision to strive for a more authentic self. Characters who come on the scene with seemingly full-fledged back stories and Jess’s chatty, self-examining narrative make for a breezily engaging read. Ages 13–up. Agent: Elizabeth Rudnick, Mackenzie Wolf. (Jan.)