The Downstairs Girl

The Downstairs Girl

eBook - 2019
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From the critically-acclaimed author of Under a Painted Sky and Outrun the Moon and founding member of We Need Diverse Books comes a powerful novel about identity, betrayal, and the meaning of family.
"This vividly rendered historic novel will keep readers riveted as witty, observant Jo deals with the dangers of questioning power." —The Washington Post
By day, seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan works as a lady's maid for the cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta. But by night, Jo moonlights as the pseudonymous author of a newspaper advice column for the genteel Southern lady, "Dear Miss Sweetie." When her column becomes wildly popular, she uses the power of the pen to address some of society's ills, but she's not prepared for the backlash that follows when her column challenges fixed ideas about race and gender. While her opponents clamor to uncover the secret identity of Miss Sweetie, a mysterious letter sets Jo off on a search for her own past and the parents who abandoned her as a baby. But when her efforts put her in the crosshairs of Atlanta's most notorious criminal, Jo must decide whether she, a girl used to living in the shadows, is ready to step into the light. With prose that is witty, insightful, and at times heartbreaking, Stacey Lee masterfully crafts an extraordinary social drama set in the New South.
A Washington Post Best Children's Book of the Year
YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults List
A Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Book of the Year
A Crystal Kite Award Winner
"Holds a mirror to our present issues while giving us a detailed and vibrant picture of life in the past." —The New York Times
"A joyful read . . . The Downstairs Girl, for all its serious and timely content, is a jolly good time." —NPR
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group

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JCLS_Ashland_Kristin Oct 08, 2020

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.

SAPL_Teens Sep 16, 2020

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

ArapahoeTiegan Sep 02, 2020

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.

t
tallboot
Jul 25, 2020

Enjoyed the writing style and character more than I expected. The location of this period piece was refreshing.

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CORI D. MORRIS
Apr 06, 2020

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.

FPL_Annie Mar 01, 2020

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.

t
twhitehead24
Mar 01, 2020

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.

j
julia_sedai
Feb 23, 2020

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.

Tigard_HollyCP Feb 14, 2020

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.

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darladoodles
Jan 10, 2020

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.

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CORI D. MORRIS
Apr 06, 2020

CORI D. MORRIS thinks this title is suitable for 12 years and over

WVMLlibrarianShannon Jan 23, 2020

WVMLlibrarianShannon thinks this title is suitable for 12 years and over

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