By Gennifer Choldenko
Available now from Wendy Lamb Books (Penguin Random House)
Newbery Honor-winning author Gennifer Choldenko, known for her Alcatraz trilogy, shifts her focus to Gilded Age San Francisco in CHASING SECRETS. Heroine Lizzie Kennedy is a bright young girl interested in the work of her physician father. When her family's cook Jing goes missing, Lizzie starts paying more attention to what is happening in her city.
I found the facts behind CHASING SECRETS fascinating and appreciated that Choldenko detailed the history and some resources in the back of the novel. I had no idea that there had been a plague outbreak in modern America. Choldenko is known for developing a rich historical setting, and she doesn't fall down on that front. This turbulent time in American history is given its due.
As Lizzie starts digging deeper into San Francisco's secrets with the help of her brother and another friend, she's shocked by how many secrets different people are keeping and their motivation for them. It starts with Noah, Jing's son, who Lizzie finds hiding on the Kennedy property after Jing's disappearance. At first, she can't believe that Jing didn't trust her enough to tell her about Noah. Then she starts to realize how the Chinese are being treated. They are being quarantined in Chinatown, even though white residents are free to enter and leave that quarter - defeating the disease-prevention motive for the quarantine. People are on the edge of rioting.
I liked that Lizzie didn't just listen to her family and others that told her nothing was wrong. As a girl, she's used to people disavowing the medical knowledge she's learned at her father's side and other things she knows. She loves her father and uncle, and trusts them, but she trusts her own curiosity and observations more. She isn't content to just listen to what others tell her, but goes out and investigates.
There is a tragic aspect to the ending, which is fitting in a novel about an epidemic, although I'm not sure how I feel about it. Overall though, I enjoyed CHASING SECRETS. It is a compelling combination of medical thriller and historical fiction. I often find historical fiction dry, but Lizzie's story is a juicy one.