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Book Cover - The Secret Keepers by Paul Yee

Paul Yee,
The Secret Keepers
Tradewind Books, 2011.

Ages: 11+

It is 1906 in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and the world has just come to an end; the world of Jackson Leong and his family at least.  After their father’s death several months earlier, Jack, his older brother Lincoln, his two younger sisters, and their mother relocated from a farm in the Sacramento area to be near family in the bustling city.  Now 16-year-old Lincoln, who “was big and tall and had quickly learned everything the family needed to know about their new hometown” has been killed in the aftermath of the great earthquake, leaving Jack to keep the family together while trying to manage the nickelodeon business his brother had begun.  On top of all this, Jack’s “yin-yang eyes” see ghosts everywhere: and they seem to be trying to tell him something.

One ghost in particular, who made an appearance at the reopening of the nickelodeon causing Jack’s family to pay for an anti-ghost charm so that customers would return, refuses to leave Jack alone.  She needs to tell Jack something, but how can he help her? Meanwhile, Lincoln’s ghost has become a hazard to his old girlfriend, Yu-yi and seems to want her to join him in the spirit world.  Jack’s cousin Kern wants to run away before his parents ship him to China for an education, and while it is no secret that Kern’s father runs an opium den, it seems that other secrets must surface if the family is to move forward. Jack, with his yin-yang eyes, is the only one who can help, but he would rather not have the job.

This engaging novel brings early 20th century San Francisco to life through the eyes of a young teen caught between many worlds and struggling with responsibilities he doesn’t feel ready for.  How Jack rises to the challenge and helps not only his family and extended family in the present but also puts to rest the wrongdoings of earlier generations is a heartwarming coming-of-age tale.  The Secret Keepers sheds light on the difficulties of living in San Francisco in this tumultuous era and how the Chinese immigrant culture evolved in the city.  Though set more than a hundred years ago, young readers today will identify with Jack, his struggles, and the themes of independence, responsibility, morality, and even romance that run throughout the book.

Abigail Sawyer
January 2013

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