Title: The Downstairs Girl
Author: Stacey Lee
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.
Stacey Lee is one of my favorite authors; I’ve read all but one book she’s written. I read The Downstairs Girl as soon as it came out, so I was super excited when it was announced as our book club book for February. My friends asked me to reread it specifically so we could discuss it, so as soon as I was done with All the Bad Apples, I dove in again. This book might be my favorite in Lee’s entire body of work; I loved it so much! Telling the story of fierce, outspoken Jo Kuan, a half-Chinese, half-white young woman, this book was beautifully written and rife with detail. The research that Lee undertook was meticulous and extensive, and I loved the way she wrote post-Reconstruction Atlanta. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres and this was a great reminder why!
Jo Kuan may be half-Chinese, but she knows her worth, despite the whole of Atlanta not even viewing her, or the family she’s ever known, a man named Old Gin, as human beings. When she’s let go from her job as a milliner in a hat shop, at first, Jo despairs. She lives in the basement (literally) of a wealthy white family, and they’re the only reason Jo has something of an education. When their newspaper begins an agony aunt column, Jo decides to throw all caution to the winds and take the pseudonym of Miss Sweetie. But exposing herself, even anonymously, is a risk that could mean losing everything.
I loved, loved, loved this book; it was just so wonderful, even reading it a second time. I loved Jo’s rich, honest and often hilarious voice. Her honesty and brashness were refreshing, especially when you consider what time period she lived in. The pacing was breakneck, and I also adored the way that each chapter started off with a Dear Sweetie letter. One of my favorite parts was how history was incorporated into the narrative; I really enjoyed the way that was integrated. The characters around Jo, too, were great in and of themselves: Caroline, Mr. and Mrs. Payne, Merritt, Nathan and his parents, Old Gin, Billy, and Noemi were all wonderful side characters! I loved how this book made me think, and the way that it shamelessly called out the poisonous, awful racism that still corrodes our society today. Easily one of my favorite books ever, I loved The Downstairs Girl! The bottom line: Hilarious, insightful, warm and topical, I loved The Downstairs Girl! Next on deck: Alien: Echo by Mira Grant!