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Chasing Secrets: 05/25/16

Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko

Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko is a middle grade historical fiction about the plague which hit San Francisco in the late 1880s through the early 1900s. During that time Chinatown because a large number of rats had died in the neighborhood. There was obviously a hefty chunk of racism and classism from the wealthy white folks living in the next neighborhood over.

Choldenko's novel is set primarily in one of those neighborhoods at the peak of the plague. While Lizzie is prevented from helping her father because of the plague, their long time cook, Jing, goes missing, presumably trapped in the quarantine. But his young son is found hiding in the attic.

I'm not really sure why this book is a medical mystery. Sure the workings of the plague weren't entirely known but this plays out more like a disaster novel than a medical mystery — more Nevil Shute and less Robin Cook.

The thing that irks me with this book is how Jing and his son's stories are used as plot devices to put Lizzie and her family in danger, thus making Lizzie's story more important. Sure, Lizzie does face a plague driven tragedy, but Jing is in the heart of the danger. Jing trapped in a rat infested neighborhood cut off from the rest of the city and his son who is forced to live in hiding in an attic of a family he might not be able to trust has a lot more at stake!

But no, instead we get plucky Lizzie who gets important life lessons and gets to learn more about a new culture, blah blah blah.

Also as a side note, the appendix that includes some Chinese phrases are Cantonese. It's one of many Chinese dialects. The other major one spoken in California is Mandarin. The words while written the same are said very differently — another bit of information left out of this book.

Three stars

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