Saturday, January 30, 2016

Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko

Chasing SecretsChasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review copy provided by Netgalley

Anyone who knows Choldenko's other work is sure to approach this one with high expectations, and happily, I can report that they will not be disappointed with the results here. I feel like this book could be called the West Coast's equivalent of Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson which was set in on the East Coast in colonial Philadelphia. However, the major difference between these two outbreaks is of course the fact that the San Francisco outbreak carried with it this terrible weight of secrecy.

Reading this, I was most impressed with the scope of different issues that Choldenko addressed in one book. There were the issues of ethnic discrimination and prejudice in turn-of-the-century San Francisco, the gender roles that limited girls and women to a powerless existence in many cases, the economic class struggles limiting citizens access to adequate medical care and educational opportunities, and most perplexing of all, the medical practices of the time and the generally poor conditions that physicians were forced to work under.

I found the main character, Lizzie, to be inspiring and unflinchingly honest. She had several personal trials to overcome in this story, but they paled in comparison to the societal troubles she faced. The time of this novel, 1900 in San Francisco seems almost unrecognizable to a reader today, and yet Choldenko gave the the landscape a surge of reality throughout that kept the story engaging and relatable.

This is an exceptional piece of historical fiction, one that could generate extensive conversation among readers. It certainly deserves a place in the classrooms of elementary and middle schools all across the country just as much as any of her Al Capone titles. It has so much teachable content that it would be a shame to let this one slip by. The entire book is very well done.

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