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Excerpt From CHASING SECRETS, By Gennifer Choldenko

Chasing Secrets, by Gennifer Choldenko
Wendy Lamb Books/Random House Children's Books

I’m reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn yet again when I hear a noise up on the third floor, where the servants live. Maggy Doyle has a way of being everywhere at once, like a dust storm. Still, I thought she was downstairs.

“Maggy!” I yell.

Not a sound from up above.

Could Papa be back? I would have heard him in the barn. Must be Jing. I jump off the bed and head for the stairs.

Maggy appears in the hall. “Miss Lizzie?”

“Is Jing home?”


Sometimes houses just creak. Maggy’s curly head disappears down the stairway, and I go back to reading in my room.  But there it is again—more like shuffling than creaking.

Rats? Mice?

Orange Tom usually takes care of them.

I tiptoe down the hall to the stairway that leads to the servants’ floor. The stairs are narrow, dark, and steep, and the stairwell is stuffy.

The door at the top is closed. I turn the crystal handle, and the door swings open.

The third-floor hallway looks like the second-floor hall, but there’s no furniture, no pictures, and the rug is worn thin. Heat rises, so this floor should be warm, but the windows are wide open. In front of Maggy Doyle’s closed door is a mat, as if this is the outside. Jing’s door has a paper lantern hanging from the knob.

What if there’s a burglar? What if he climbed in the window? With Billy and Papa gone, it’s my responsibility to find out. Aunt Hortense wouldn’t agree, but since when do I do what she says?

And then a girl whispers: “Lizzie.”

The hair on the back of my neck stands up straight. Who is this? I don’t know the voice, but this girl knows my name.

I don’t believe in ghosts. I watched Papa examine a dead person before. The dead are gone. They can’t return.

“Lizzie.” It’s coming from Jing’s room.

“How do you know me?” My voice trembles.

The bevels in the crystal doorknob flicker in the  sunlight as the knob turns, making a kaleidoscope pattern on the floor. The door swings open, and a boy stands before me.   

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About the book:

San Francisco in 1900 comes alive for young readers in CHASING SECRETS (ages 9–12), the latest novel from Newbery Honor–winning author Gennifer Choldenko (Al Capone Does My Shirts). At the turn of the twentieth century, societal rules dictated that women’s place was in the home, segregation was the norm, and practicing medicine was a job for only men. But for thirteen-year-old Lizzie Kennedy, these rules were made to be broken.

Lizzie is anything but happy about attending a finishing school—a place where girls are groomed to know how to dress, impress, and find a suitable husband. Science and medicine, her true passions, are not appropriate topics for ladies-in-training like herself. Lizzie is never happier than when she accompanies her physician father on his house calls. And when one of those house calls reveals that the plague may be hitting San Francisco, Lizzie wants to know more.

When the Kennedys’ beloved family cook, Jing, goes missing, Lizzie is convinced he’s trapped in Chinatown, which is under quarantine for fear that the plague will spread—even though most people in town, including her father, say that the plague is only a rumor. And when Lizzie discovers Jing’s son, Noah, hiding in her own home, she knows she needs to find Jing, and soon. Even if she has to break all the rules to do it. . . .

Choldenko’s writing brings history to life for young readers, introducing them to Gilded Age San Francisco, exploring a medical mystery, race relations, the introduction of certain immunizations, and even horse-drawn carriages versus automobiles. CHASING SECRETS is a moving story that addresses the importance of family, friendship, and courage, and how secrets always have a way of revealing themselves.

Chérie Newman is a former arts and humanities producer and on-air host for Montana Public Radio, and a freelance writer. She founded and previously hosted a weekly literary program, The Write Question, which continues to air on several public radio stations; it is also available online at and
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