Choldenko, Gennifer. Chasing Secrets.
August 4th 2015 by Wendy Lamb Books
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Lizzie doesn't feel like she has any friends at Miss Barstow's school in San Francisco in 1900, and her older brother, Billy, has drifted away from her as well. She's always glad to accompany her physician father on his calls because she can set a broken arm or administer chloroform; she just can't make her Aunt Hortense happy by saying and wearing the appropriate things. When her father is called away for an extended period at the same time that beloved family retainer, Jing, goes missing, Lizzie springs into action. It's even more important that Jing be found, since his son, Noah, is hiding in Jing's room. Noah has been living with an uncle in Chinatown, but when the plague is suspected there and the entire section of town is quarantined, Jing is afraid that Noah will be in danger. Lizzie's uncle, a newspaperman, is unable to get Jing out, and even using her connections to the police don't do any good. Lizzie has to continue to go to school and hold up to her aunt's scrutiny while trying to hide Noah and find out what has happened to Jing. She gets invited to a ball by Gus, who is a decent fellow who can appreciate her interest in science, and starts to realize that she may be every bit as bad about not knowing her family's servants as the girls she considers to be snobbish. When the plague hits close to home, Lizzie realizes that relationships are difficult, but finds the support she needs to get through tragedy.
Strengths: Like Hopkinson's The Great Trouble or Chibbaro's Deadly, this just goes to show that a well done, adventure packed book that also concerns a deadly disease can be a gripping read. The research on this is quite well done, with copious notes in the back on many different aspects of the story. Lizzie's character was written very well; she's not overly plucky-- she knows what the social mores are and does try to stay within them, but 1900 is a time when a little more opportunity was given to girls and women, and she takes advantage of it. She also grows up and learns how to treat everyone more equally, which was a nice change.
Weaknesses: A few niggling details-- there is a mention of a girl discussing brassieres, and I recall distinctly from reading From head to toe : bound feet, bathing suits, and other bizarre and beautiful things by Janice Weaver (2003) that the brassiere was not invented until after my grandmother graduated from high school... into 1912. There was also a brief mention of a lipstick being slipped into a handbag, and I doubt that young girls would have been allowed lipstick at that point. It probably would have been in a pot, for one thing, applied with a brush, and didn't become socially acceptable until after WWI. Not a huge deal, certainly, but something I noticed.
What I really thought: Historical fiction is still a bit of a hard sell, but if more of them were like this, it wouldn't be. Definitely will buy a copy because I really liked this, and Choldenko's other books were not even huge favorites of mine!