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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