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)