Author: Gennifer Choldenko
Reading Level: Middle Grade
Genre: Historical Fiction
Released: August 4th 2015
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Newbery Honor–winning author Gennifer Choldenko deftly combines humor, tragedy, fascinating historical detail, and a medical mystery in this exuberant new novel.
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.
One of the fun things about being an author is I get to read the books I’m interested in, and the books my characters are interested in. I was reading a nonfiction book about rats for Jimmy Mattaman, a character in my Alcatraz books, when I came upon a chapter about a plague outbreak in San Francisco. I’ve lived in the Bay Area most of my adult life, and I’d never heard about a plague outbreak, so I immediately wanted to find out more. That was the beginning.
2. When coming up with your title, was this something you came up with prior to writing the story, during writing the story, or after?
The title The Monkey’s Secret came to me early in the process. With every draft, it felt like a better fit. But then a picture book I wrote eighteen years ago, Putting the Monkeys to Bed, suddenly came back to life and landed on the Summer 2015 list. Random House didn’t think it made sense to have two such different books with “monkey” in the title. (Hot Key, the UK publisher of this novel, did not agree. They kept the original title, The Monkey’s Secret.) I happened to be in Europe on vacation during this monkey kerfuffle. And so I sent my editor titles from London, from Paris, from Amsterdam, but none of them were quite right. Chasing Secrets was not a title I came up with. It’s the first time in my entire career that I haven’t written my own title.
3. What was one of your favorite scenes to write? Why?
This may sound strange, but often the scenes that feel the best to write are the really sad ones. They come burbling out of me, and when they finally get onto the page, I feel intense sadness and a huge catharsis. My husband will see me crying over my keyboard and immediately become alarmed. “What’s the matter?” he’ll say. And then in the next breath, “Oh, I forgot. You’re having a good day.”
In Chasing Secrets, this scene is when Billy’s motorcar gets delivered.
4. What do you admire about your main character, Lizzie?
I admire how she truly believes that all wrongs can be righted. I believed that when I was thirteen. On my better days, I still believe.
5. Do you have a favorite line from your book?
A book is a friend you take with you wherever you go.
My sixteen-year-old daughter says that is the world’s corniest line. She’s probably right, but I don’t care because it is exactly how I feel about books.
6. How would you describe Chasing Secrets in ten words or less?
Hidden plague outbreak uncovered by thirteen-year-old doctor’s daughter.
Francisco Bay area.
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