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Asian representation in historical fiction is pretty limited, so it was nice reading this teen novel about a teen of Chinese descent living in Atlanta in the period immediately following the Civil War.
The Downstairs Girl was an absolutely phenomenal book. From the beginning I was utterly and totally hooked. Jo Kuan, a seventeen year old Chinese-American is our protagonist. Jo and her foster father, Old Gin, live in the basements of the Bell’s house. The Bell’s run a newspaper called the Focus, which Jo is a devoted fan of. Jo diligently worked for Mrs.English’s hat shop, but was fired since she makes the customers “ uncomfortable”. I really admired how the author made us aware right at the start that she was treated differently then her coworker, because of her Asian descent. Once back at home she overhears, from under the Bell’s house, that if the Focus doesn’t get 2000 more subscribers in a month, it would shut down. With her hat job gone, she created an alter ego, Miss Sweetie, and writes columns to help boost their patron count. While doing that she’s found a new job as the maid for the Payne only daughter, Caroline. As Miss.Sweetie’s column rise in popularity, so do Jo’s problems and challenges. This book is a great representation of how people view Asian-American citizens in the late 1800’s. A total classic in the making. 5/5 stars - Maade, SAPL Read It & Review Contributor
I love how Stacey Lee creates wonderful historical fiction from the point of view of Chinese-Americans. This is not a point of view you see, especially for the time periods Lee writes within. It gives such a wonderfully unique view into some of the racial ideas of the times and how they affect non-white/non-black peoples. I didn't love the characters in this story as much as in Under A Painted Sky, but it was still an interesting view.
Enjoyed the writing style and character more than I expected. The location of this period piece was refreshing.
This book sheds so much light on minorities after the Civil War in the deep south. At a time where racism and classicism is still among hardened minds. This story pushes us to rethink how we classify each other. We are still grasping at what human rights is and how we can make the world better for those who are looked down upon.
Jo Kwan struggles to find her place in a society where she is either ignored or considered lesser because of her race. She finds herself frustrated with social niceties and injustices to her person. She starts writing a column addressing these in issues, in the guise of "Miss Sweetie".
She gives her approval to bicycles and woman's rights, and soon becomes a leading voice in the culture pushing controversial topics and handling them with ease. I really love Jo Kwan's story, she goes after truth and honesty with a reckless abandon, she lives life with purpose that is not much seen in any culture. She is her truest self and does not shy away from it.
This is a masterful, beautiful story full of unexpected joy and how a downstairs girl can rise above racism and find herself and her place in society.
A charming historical fiction about an opinionated Chinese girl who has a secret identity: she is the author behind "Dear Miss Sweetie", a newspaper advice column challenging fixed ideas of race and gender.
The writing in this book is beautiful! The imagery, similes, metaphors, and I could go on about the words and writing. Jo lives in an underground area unbeknownst to the owners of the home who also run a newspaper there. She does not know who her mother is and lives with who she believes is her uncle. He never says much about the family but it does eventually come out. So many words to live by and Jo and her uncle do not have it easy. Jo has a tendency to speak her mind which eventually is the reason she is let go from the millery where so made beautiful hats with gorgeous knots. As Jo tries to help the owner of the house/newspaper, she begins to write a column called "Miss Sweetie" where she can speak her mind anonymously. As her column becomes popular so does the newspaper and subscriptions increase and so does speaking her mind. Great story but the words/writing put it over the top.
I've liked all of this author's books so far and this one was good as well.
Very interesting to read about a Chinese-American girl in 1890 Atlanta, Georgia, who is neither black or white. I appreciated the historical detail and facts, and, although some of the plot seemed a stretch, overall it was a good story. I do wish there was a sequel to it, though. I felt a few things at the end left me hanging.
It’s 1890, and seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan lives with Old Gin in what used to be an underground railroad hideaway in Atlanta. They live kind of on the margins, not black, not white. The basement in which they live is unknown even to the people who live in the house above them, a publisher and his wife and son. Jo feels partly as if she was raised by the Bells, listening to Mrs. Bell tell little Nathan bedtime stories, eavesdropping as Mr. Bell works on his newspaper stories. They don’t know she exists. She doesn’t know her parents, only Old Gin, who took her under his wing when she was found abandoned as an infant. When she is sacked for no good reason by the hatmaker and re-hired by a mistress who had previously fired her (also for no good reason), she is required to spend most of her days with the most unpleasant Caroline Payne. But the work that really matters to her is her new job as the anonymous author of the Miss Sweetie agony aunt column in the Bells’ newspaper, her goal to save them from shuttering their doors because of lack of readership. Jo has a unique, often dry and sarcastic voice and is clever with her words. I LOVE her character. Through most of the book I thought I would rate it 5 stars, but I had to lower it to 4 ½ because toward the end some of the relationship development did not seem realistic to me. No matter, it is an enjoyable read that opens a window to a part of American history I knew little about.
Stacey Lee writes with a wisdom that speaks to the ancient philosophers. Her "Dear Miss Sweetie" responses were to the point yet gracious and insightful. I want a Miss Sweetie in my life! Jo's everyday musings on life are also a joy to read. Here is one of her gems: "Hammer Foot taught us that standing in another's shoes is good for our own postures, but today, I can barely manage to stand in my own." Lee gives us a view of Atlanta when segregation was rearing its ugly head in the late 19th century through Jo's eyes as a Chinese American. Powerful stuff and Lee deals presents it to us unvarnished, yet with charm and sensitivity. She is one of my favorite YA authors.
Although I really enjoyed this book, I just felt like it was lacking something? The story line was a little slow for me hence the 4 star review. I loved Jo as a main character, she is a Chinese-American living in the South sometime after the civil war. There is still a lot of turmoil in the south during this time period setting, so race and feminism play a huge roll in this storyline. Jo just wants to be treated equally, she wants to ride in the "white train only," and as a female she wants the right to vote. Jo is a high-strung character who's full of OPINIONS and she wants her opinions to be heard! It's because of this that she makes the perfect person to run an anonymous advice column under the guise "Miss Sweetie." I think this was my favorite part of the book. Throughout the novel she receives some letters asking for advice, and Jo's responses were just so hilariously written. Another thing I really loved about this novel was the romance. Jo secretly has a crush on the editor for the newspaper she writes for and it was really fun to watch this romance play out, but I do think if there had been just a little bit more romance strewn throughout the novel it would have made for the quicker pace that it was lacking in my opinion.
A truly delightful listen starring a spunky heroine. I really enjoy historical fiction novels that highlight groups that are not widely covered in American history books. Chinese Americans are one such group. Lee addresses the fact that Chinese Americans were often invisible to society because they did not easily fit into the construct of “black” or “white.” Though considered “colored” by most, it was not always clear which laws of segregation and discrimination applied to their ethnic group. This is evident throughout the story, as Jo tries to navigate the tricky and often murky waters of the political and social climate of the South.
This book did get a little slow somewhere in the middle, but the beginning and end were fantastic. Lee’s character development is superb and she tied up the story in ways that I didn’t really expect. I liked that a romance was not a central focus of this story, because this was really a coming-of-age story about a young woman finding her voice in a world that tried hard to silence her. Despite adversity, she challenged social norms and was not satisfied to let others dictate her destiny.
Emily Woo Zeller did a great job as the narrator of this book. I enjoyed this performance far more than her performance in The Bird and the Blade.
Lighthearted YA historical fiction about a spirited Chinese teenager fighting for both women’s and minority’s rights in 1890. Interesting look at this post reconstruction time period. In a time where life was centered around black and white, the Chinese were tolerated but they were not considered “real” Americans. In this book a plucky girl tries to rise above the barriers. This is the 2nd historical fiction I’ve read by this author. I enjoyed both of them.
Aimed at YA readers, Lee was successful in delivering a story of a young Asian immigrant living in the south at a time where Asians and African Americans had no status much less citizenship. Jo and her grandfather live incognito in a basement of a print shop where she submits her modern views on the latest societal woes through an advise column. Not only is Jo a strong female lead, but she epitomizes the struggle of the unrecognized and the disenfranchised.
A Must-Read YA staff pick. With a starred review from every major book reviewer, this latest story from Stacey Lee will keep you turning the pages. Chinese American Jo Kuan’s double life as a lady’s maid by day and a popular, yet pseudonymous advice columnist by night is both clever and poignant.
From TKB Teen Finn: I had never heard of the Asian side of southern US history before, and as the book describes well, the South only had space for black and white. Learning how Jo and other Asians had to live 'undercover' due to their lack of citizenship and obvious racism + xenophobia was very interesting. Along with the educational aspect, I enjoyed how all the plot lines came together at the end and truly surprised me! From what I remember from Stacey Lee's other books (Outrun the Moon, Under a Painted Sky), she wrote really strong main characters. Jo, although interesting, didn't have any flaws, making her an okay main character but not a deep one.