There are two reasons why this ended up on my books to read list last year. First was the author, Gennifer Choldenko. I had fondly remembered reading one of her other novels, AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS, the story of Moose Flanagan and his family’s life on Alcatraz Island.
The second reason was not the cover or the title, but instead the sub-title or logline for the book: A DEADLY SURPRISE IN A CITY OF LIES. There is so much mystery and intrigue in those eight words. Yes, I waited too long to enjoy this author again, especially with this journey back to 1900 San Francisco.
Narrated by Lizzie, a spunky 13-year-0ld who doesn’t fit in with expectations that girls are trained for future lives as wives, her voice shines throughout. Front and center though is the Bubonic Plague and Lizzie’s attempts to understand its ramifications through her older brother, her father, and a Chinese boy she befriends. This clash of race and culture is not acceptable and Lizzie and Noah must be careful when and where they meet.
The pacing is excellent and the 36 chapters fly by like the wind. You know this is going to be a sad tale, but with doses of humor and a coming of age innocence, I hope you will add this one to your list.
PUBLICATION DATE: 2015 WORD COUNT: 53,449 READING LEVEL: 3.7
FULL PLOT (From AMAZON) 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.
FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT: CHASING SECRETS by GENNIFER CHOLDENKO
- The author notes are rich with more information about the plague, Chinatown, and medical insights during that time period. Many more secrets are revealed here.
- Issues of racism, immigration, and discrimination are set forth for young readers in an understandable way and make way for comparisons to today’s world. Excellent discussion starter.
- History doesn’t have to be boring! This little known historical event is presented through a fascinating series of events. Some funny, many more heart wrenching.
- Lizzie is a strong female character we can cheer for. She questions even the brightest minds about the inconsistencies in medicine and in her relationships with family and hired help. Lizzie tries to shape her own world view.
- Like today and 116 years ago, money often gets in the way of good decisions. It was nice to have a story that framed this theme so perfectly.
FAVORITE LINES:(A conversation between Lizzie and Noah)
“You think I’m stupid?”
“You’re not as smart as I am.”
“What? That’s not a nice thing to say. How would you know, anyway?”
“You’re a girl. You’ll get married, like all girls do.”
“I’m not getting married.” The flush rises in my cheeks. “Wives have to do what they’re told.”
“Maybe you could marry a stupid husband, and then you could make all the decisions.”
I frown. “What would I do with a stupid husband?”
“If you got tired of him, you could take him to the auction.”
“A stupid-husband auction?” I ask. “Would the amount of money you got for him be based on how stupid he was?”
AUTHOR QUOTE (From Gennifer Choldenko’s web site: I am the youngest child in a large, loud family. We are so loud, in fact, that strangers sometimes asked us if our parents were deaf.
Make a comment below if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them.
Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.