Wednesday, July 29, 2015

ARC Review: Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko

Chasing Secrets
Author: Gennifer Choldenko
Publication: Wendy Lamb Books (August 4, 2015)

Description: Newbery Honor–winning author Gennifer Choldenko deftly combines humor, tragedy, fascinating historical detail, and a medical mystery in this exuberant new novel.

San Francisco, 1900. The Gilded Age. A fantastic time to be alive for lots of people . . . but not thirteen-year-old Lizzie Kennedy, stuck at Miss Barstow’s snobby school for girls. Lizzie’s secret passion is science, an unsuitable subject for finishing-school girls. Lizzie lives to go on house calls with her physician father. On those visits to his patients, she discovers a hidden dark side of the city—a side that’s full of secrets, rats, and rumors of the plague.

The newspapers, her powerful uncle, and her beloved papa all deny that the plague has reached San Francisco. So why is the heart of the city under quarantine? Why are angry mobs trying to burn Chinatown to the ground? Why is Noah, the Chinese cook’s son, suddenly making Lizzie question everything she has known to be true? Ignoring the rules of race and class, Lizzie and Noah must put the pieces together in a heart-stopping race to save the people they love.

My Thoughts: Lizzie Kennedy loves going with her doctor father on his cases. Her Aunt Hortense is less thrilled and wants Lizzie to do well at the posh school she attends and be more of a lady. But Lizzie loves medicine and science.

San Francisco in 1900 is soon to face an outbreak of bubonic plague. Her uncle who owns a newspaper and other powerful men are vested in keeping the outbreak hidden. It's bad for business and for tourism. Lizzie first gets involved when Jing, the Chinese housekeeper who has taken care of her family since her mother's death, is caught in the quarantine of Chinatown and Lizzie can't get him out. Jing has brought his son to Lizzie's house and hidden him in his room. Lizzie finds out and the two of them become friends when she gets involved in smuggling food to him and keeping him company.

Lizzie's older brother Billy isn't the companion that he used to be. He and her father are at odds about what Billy's future should be. Billy is fighting in order to earn money to buy a car. He isn't much help in trying to get Jing out of Chinatown but Lizzie's new friends Gemma and Gus Trotter do help her.

This story was great historical fiction. It illuminates a period of time and a place that seem very real. The author talks about the prejudice that the Chinese faced in California at that time. Lizzie and Jing's son Noah could never be friends in public without danger to him and social ostracism for her. The book also talks about the state of medicine at the time when many diseases were attributed to "bad air" and the germ theory of disease was only just coming into fashion.

The story was well-written and the characters were well-rounded and engaging. I can't wait to share this story with my middle schoolers this fall.

Favorite Quote:
"Mucus," I tell her. "Did you know your nose produces a flask full of mucus every day?

Gemma makes a face. "A Flask full...Don't tell me you drink it?"

"Actually, I do. Everyone does." I know i should say things like this. Aunt Hortense says I try hard to be peculiar. But she's wrong; I come by it quite naturally.
I got this eARC from NetGalley. You can buy your copy here.

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