On My Bookshelf: Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko

June 05, 2017

In Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko, Lizzie always feels like the odd girl out at her finishing school in 1900s San Francisco. When disease strikes the city and Chinatown is put under quarantine, Lizzie's worries about fitting in at school are sidelined for larger concerns. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
The basic plot from Amazon: 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.
In Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko, Lizzie always feels like the odd girl out at her finishing school in 1900s San Francisco. When disease strikes the city and Chinatown is put under quarantine, Lizzie's worries about fitting in at school are sidelined for larger concerns. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.

Why I liked it: Chasing Secrets is set in San Francisco in the early 1900s at a time when the city was going through great change. Nellie’s aunt and uncle are very well to do. Her uncle runs a major newspaper and has connections with other important men in the city. Their home and dress is heavily influenced by Parisian culture. Nellie’s father is a doctor in a time period when medicine was not always science-based.

Nellie’s father is often away for days at a time and her older brother Billy does as he pleases in his absence. His father would like him to become a doctor too, but Billy seeks a more profitable profession. He rebels by taking fights in hopes of earning enough money to buy a car. Nellie enjoys going on house calls with her father and hopes to one day be a doctor.  Her interests make it difficult for her to fit in with the other girls at school.

Classroom application: In the novel, vaccines are not trusted. This could connect to concerns in today’s world about the link between vaccines and autism. Other possible research topics include the bubonic plague, Asian migration to the West Coast, finishing schools, and the history of educating women.


The novel could serve as a mentor text. Students could write their own historical fiction piece centered around a racial tension or conflict.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Chasing Secrets for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

For more reading suggestions for students and teachers:


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