The plot is enriched by winning characters, meaningful friendships, a taut atmosphere, and secrets multiplying as fast as the story’s rats.” —Booklist starred review
“Not only will this novel hold a proud spot on the deadly disease shelf with Jim Murphy's An American Plague and Laurie Halse Anderson's Fever 1793, it's a vivid picture of 20th-century San Francisco and a stirring story of a lonely, funny girl trying to be her "best true self." —Shelf Awareness starred review
From the Hardcover edition.
“Aunt Hortense says I try hard to be peculiar. But she’s wrong; I come by it quite naturally,” says Lizzie Kennedy, 13, who reluctantly attends a fussy finishing school in turn-of-the-20th-century San Francisco when she’d rather be making house calls with her father, a kindly doctor. (She and Jacqueline Kelly’s Calpurnia Tate could’ve been BFFs if they had lived nearby.) When Lizzie overhears talk about a bubonic plague outbreak, her father and her uncle, a wealthy newspaper publisher, dismiss it as rumor. Within days, however, Chinatown is quarantined, trapping the Kennedys’ beloved cook, Jing, and marooning his son, Noah, who he had secretly hidden in the Kennedy’s servants’ quarters. Ignoring the social mores that would prohibit Lizzie from befriending a boy her age, a servant’s child, or a Chinese person, she finds Noah much better company than her snooty classmates. A powerful subplot involving Lizzie’s older brother, Billy, shows that the controversy over immunization has long roots. Choldenko, who won a Newbery Honor for Al Capone Does My Shirts, delivers another engaging historical novel about a little-known event. Ages 9–12. Agent: Elizabeth Harding, Curtis Brown. (Aug.)
Gr 5–8—Thirteen-year-old Lizzie is the daughter of Dr. Jules Kennedy, who practices medicine in turn of the 20th century San Francisco. The family resides in a house on Uncle Karl and Aunt Hortense's Nob Hill estate. There's Lizzie and her brother, Billy; Jing, the cook; Maggy, the maid; and—unbeknownst to all but Lizzie—Jing's son, Noah. Since Lizzie's mother died, Aunt Hortense has assumed a maternal role in Lizzie's upbringing, which includes making her attend Miss Barstow's School for Young Women. Unfortunately, the school offers little to nurture Lizzie's interest in science and medicine. While accompanying her father on house calls, Lizzie soon hears rumors of a plague. Then Jing goes missing. She suspects he might be under quarantine in Chinatown. But why is Chinatown the only area of the city under quarantine? And why aren't any medical staff or supplies being sent to the Chinatown residents? Despite the evidence, city officials and the medical community—including Lizzie's father—are denying the plague's existence. As the title suggests, various characters, along with the state and city government, harbor secrets. An author's note, time line, and bibliography document the historical facts and issues of the period. VERDICT Choldenko's latest novel features a fast-paced plot that will appeal to lovers of both mystery and historical fiction. A first purchase.—Sharon M. Lawler, formerly of Randolph Elementary, Universal City, TX
Infected rats and San Francisco's dark past at the turn of the 20th century come to light in Newbery Honoree Choldenko's (Al Capone Does My Shirts, 2004, etc.) look into an outbreak of bubonic plague. Even though 13-year-old Lizzie Kennedy attends the prim and proper Miss Barstow's School for Young Women, courtesy of well-to-do Aunt Hortense and Uncle Karl, she'd rather accompany Papa on his medical house calls. She longs to follow in her father's footsteps, unheard of for a girl and unlike her grouchy older brother, Billy. To ease her school loneliness, Lizzie relies on Jing, her family's beloved cook, who never fails to make her smile. As rumors about the plague infecting San Francisco abound, only Chinatown is put under quarantine. When Jing fails to return home, Lizzie fears he may be stuck in Chinatown. She's desperate to find him, not only for herself, but for Jing's 12-year-old son, Noah, who is hiding out in Jing's upstairs room. Lizzie and Noah's secret friendship grows with genuine tenderness and illuminates the differences and injustices that exist within gender, class, and race. Historical details, such as Joseph Kinyoun's pathogen experiment and immunization politics, feel meticulously researched (and familiar to the point of contemporaneity) but never take away from the story's heart. A solid story of friendship, mystery, and one girl's perseverance, in which a health scare and its rumors mirror today's epidemics. (author's note) (Historical fiction. 8-14)