CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 10 . . . . November 4, 2011
The Secret Keepers opens in San Francisco on April 18, 1906, early in the morning. By the end of that day, the city has been devastated by an earthquake, and Jackson Leong's older brother, Lincoln, has died.
A year and a half later, Jackson, like many others in San Francisco's Chinatown, is still struggling to rebuild his life. His mother is short of money, Jackson's classmates bully him and it seems his free time is filled with work rather than relaxation. His best friend comes up with get-rich-quick schemes that put both boys in danger. Jackson is haunted by his brother's ghost as well as the ghost of an unknown young woman who continually appears and seems to want something from him.
Paul Yee has created an interesting world for his young adult readers. They are taken back in time to the early twentieth century and placed in the world of Chinatown with its nickelodeon, its opium den, its temples and ghosts. They meet shopkeepers, Jacksons' extended family and friends, and the strange man known as Temple Keeper whose task is to communicate with ghosts and hopefully settle their spirits so they no longer haunt the living. All of this comes to life thanks to Yee's detailed descriptions as well as the many conversations among the characters.
There are many secret keepers in the book, and it is this keeping of secrets which prevents the ghosts from finding rest. Once the truth has been told, the ghosts vanish, and it seems life for the inhabitants of Chinatown will settle down into a happy pattern.
Readers of mystery books will enjoy the ghosts and supernatural elements in this story and solving the mystery of identity of the ghost girl in the blue Chinese smock. Those who like historical fiction will enjoy learning about various aspects and traditions of Chinese culture a century ago. And woven into both of these is Yee's story of Jackson who overcomes adversity, keeps his family from disgrace, and finally becomes a capable and admirable young man by the end of the novel.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.