Monday, August 24, 2015

Blog Tour: Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko (Guest Post + Giveaway)

CHASING SECRETS by Gennifer Choldenko
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published August 4th 2015 by Wendy Lamb Books

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound
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.

Guest Post:

There is no doubt that women had far fewer opportunities in turn-of-the-century San Francisco. But does that mean women were less intelligent, less clever, less enterprising, less ambitious or in possession of less gumption than they are today?

I think not.

Women used their intelligence to gain what they wanted within a system designed to prevent them from possessing power and authority. The currency of power was invisible. When you figured out a backroom channel, you kept it on the down-low or risked losing it.

My two grandmothers and my two grandmothers-in-law were born just before the turn of the twentieth century. They were roughly ten years younger than Lizzie, the thirteen-year-old protagonist of my novel Chasing Secrets. They are the closest I could come to a personal connection with women of that era.

I realize this isn’t a valid statistical sampling, but none of the four was the least bit pliant, unassuming or retiring. All of them were matriarchs who held sway over their broods with remarkable tenacity. My grandma Mary, the only career woman of the four, started her own theater in 1929, the year the stock market crashed. That theater—the Theatre of Western Springs—remains a strong, vibrant and financially successful part of the community to this day.

My husband’s grandma Busie struck terror into the hearts of her grandchildren and their prospective spouses. If Busie didn’t like you, you were history. Nobody defied the wishes of Busie.

I don’t believe that sweet, compliant girls were a dime a dozen in 1900 and it’s only girls coming of age in 2015 who are full of energy and ambition. It certainly is true that getting a medical degree was far less common in 1900 than it is today. And it’s also true that a woman’s ambitions were more likely to get channeled through a son or husband. Even so, my research shows that the secret world of women was quite powerful in its own right.

The character in Chasing Secrets who best illustrates an influential woman is Hortense Sweeting. On the outside, Hortense is the picture of respectability. On the inside, Hortense is just as ambitious as Lizzie. The difference is that she’s learned how to get what she wants without openly defying the decorum of the day.

Of course, there are a lot of secrets in Chasing Secrets . . . but one of the most surprising is the secret Hortense harbors from her powerful husband, the newspaper tycoon Karl Sweeting. But I guess the bigger point is what kind of society requires that many secrets?

About the author:

How did a girl named Snot-Nose end up publishing children’s books?

Here are the facts as I know them . . .

I am the youngest of four kids, all of whom have big mouths. We were so loud, that once a lady asked my brother if our mother was deaf.

She was not.

The only sibling who did not have the trademark Johnson big mouth was my sister, Gina, who had Autism. My parents worked very hard to try to figure out how to help Gina, but being the parent of a child with severe Autism is like riding a unicycle in an earthquake.

Since I was the youngest, I spent a lot of time by myself making up words, stories, songs and jokes (known as Gennifer Jokes) none of which made a lot of sense. Luckily, I kept most of these strange imaginings to myself.
After graduating from Brandeis University with a degree in English, I went to work writing advertising. I spent my days trying to convince people to take out a second mortgage or upgrade their printer or buy death and dismemberment insurance. I wrote copy for seven years until all of my words began to sound like the work of a big mouth twelve year old. At which point I went to Art School. With a second degree from Rhode Island School of Design I was supposed to get my portfolio together, but instead I wrote my first novel. (I do my best work when I’m supposed to be doing something else.) And that was the beginning. I have been a twelve year old for twenty years now. I have no plans to turn thirteen.


One copy of CHASING SECRETS will be sent to one lucky winner! Open to US residents only, no PO boxes, please! :)

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