Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you a wonderful book by Newbery Honor Book winner Gennifer Choldenko.
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. -- Wendy Lamb Books
When I was asked if I was interested in participating in a book tour for the novel CHASING SECRETS by Gennifer Choldenko, I jumped at the chance. I rarely participate in book tours anymore because my schedule doesn't really allow me to have many commitments; however, I felt this book was worthy of something special. I read this middle grade book in one sitting and can't rave enough about it. Ms. Choldenko has done it again. She's written an intriguing book with fantastic characters that also manages to teach kids a thing or two!
CHASING SECRETS takes place in the early 1900s in San Francisco. Lizzie Kennedy is a 13 year old girl who loves science and medicine, but that's not exactly proper for a young lady who attends a finishing school. Lizzie's mother is gone, but her physician father does the best he can with a teenage daughter. He takes Lizzie with him on house calls and attempts to teach her the art of medicine. Lizzie learns a great deal about life on these visits including the startling discovery that the plague might be hitting San Francisco!
When Jing, her family's treasured cook goes missing, Lizzie is certain that he is stuck in Chinatown where there's a quarantine for the plague. Lizzie is concerned about the plague even most people are saying that it's just a rumor.
One day, Lizzie makes another shocking discovery. Jing's son, Noah, is hiding in a room in the upstairs of her house. Noah and Lizzie hit it off and become fast (albeit secret) friends. Lizzie wants to help Noah by providing food and other treats, but she also realizes that she must find the missing Jing and bring him home... no matter the cost!
I adored CHASING SECRETS from the various characters, to the storyline, to the historical information. It was a wonderful book -- truly a page-turner -- while also being a sweet story about friendship, determination, and self-discovery. This book had a little bit of everything and should appeal to a wide variety of readers. There is drama, suspense, mystery, friendship, humor, and even a history lesson.
I've probably been living under a rock or maybe I'm just lousy at U.S. history, but I wasn't familiar with the story of the plague hitting San Francisco in the early 1900s. Not only did CHASING SECRETS introduce this to me, but Ms. Choldenko brought the entire time period to life. I loved her descriptions of the city and its people, and I was equally interested in how she portrayed the role of women during this time period. Furthermore, I enjoyed learning about the plague as well as the introduction of immunizations. As a fan of historical fiction, I was impressed with how well this book incorporated the facts of the time with the fictional characters.
Another truly special thing about CHASING SECRETS were the characters. I loved many of them, but I was especially drawn to Lizzie and Noah. These kids were just so amazing -- smart and kind, and I think that kids will not only adore them but also relate to them. I found Lizzie to be particularly interesting because she was a bit of a fish out of water. She was definitely a girl who was fascinated by science and medicine, and she didn't quite fit in with the other girls at the finishing school. Despite attempts by her aunt to make her into a lady, Lizzie did her own thing. She was determined to do what she thought was right and heaven help those who got in her way.
I also really liked the mystery aspects of the story. Since few people during this time were admitting to the dangers of the plague, I enjoyed seeing Lizzie pursue the truth... and boy was she resourceful in learning information! In addition, I appreciated the mystery of what happened to Jing. I could sense Lizzie and Noah's urgency and the mystery definitely kept me involved in their story.
CHASING SECRETS is a great read, and I'd love to see it incorporated into classrooms. Ms. Choldenko even includes an Educators' Guide which includes Common Core Standards Correlations to make it easier for teachers to use. There is a pre-reading activity suggestion as well as many discussion questions. There are also curriculum connections and vocabulary. Some of the themes you might want to explore include family dynamics, friendship, racial relations, the role of women, secrets, courage, prejudice, grief, and loss.
All in all, I loved CHASING SECRETS and I would love to see all middle-grade readers pick up this book and talk about it with each other! Highly recommended!
Check out the other Blog Tour stops for CHASING SECRETS:
August 24: Bookhounds YA
August 25: Ang Reads!
August 26: The Children's Book Review
August 27: Through A Glass, Darkly
August 28: Reviews Coming At YA
I am so excited to announce that I have a copy of CHASING SECRETS to share with one very lucky reader courtesy of the publisher. To enter, just fill out the form below before September 11th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!
If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!