________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 10 . . . . November 4, 2011


The Secret Keepers.

Paul Yee.
Vancouver, BC: Tradewind Books, 2011.
133 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-896580-96-8.

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4



A gust of wind sprang up, and the sharp edges of flying leaves snagged and scattered parts of Mei's form into the moonlit night. Somehow the ghost regenerated itself. But whenever Kern got close to her, So-mei's image faded and broke up. It reminded Jack of the times that the projector at the nickelodeon jammed. The film clicked through at the wrong speed so the actors faded in and out.

So-mei stopped at the same spot where she had disappeared before. She knelt and placed both hands on the ground. She remained there without moving. Gradually her form became more solid. Jack could see her ears, even make out the tips of her fingers.

"So-mei Elder Sister, speak," Jack pleaded. "Tell us what you want."

The ghost opened her mouth, and it looked as if she might say something. But no words came out. She made small circles over the ground with her hands. Then she vanished.

"Dig here," Temple Keeper said, pointing.

"What happened?" Kern asked, looking puzzled.

"She's gone," Temple Keeper said. "But I suspect she buried something here. There are tools leaning against the outhouse. Bring them here."

Jack brought over a pick and a shovel.

"Sir, why didn't So-mei speak to us?" he asked.

"It takes far too much energy for a ghost to speak. Just dig."

"But we need to find out what her unfinished business is," Jack insisted. "Otherwise all of this digging is useless."

"Be patient, boy."

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.

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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