The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee ~ Review

My Review:

I don't always pay attention to ads, but the cover of this book really intrigued me with it's Asian heroine and historical style of clothing. I've been noticing more and more books with Asian protagonists, which is something I am absolutely thrilled about as an Asian-American woman myself. Historical fiction is my favorite genre, and then to find that there are even horses involved, it's like the book was written for me!

Jo Kuan lives with her adoptive father, Old Gin, underneath a struggling Atlanta newspaper whose owners are unaware of their presence. Jo works as a lady's maid for one of the city's wealthiest families, while spending her nights writing the Focus's advice column under the name Miss Sweetie.

Miss Sweetie is provocative, with new ideas that challenge those around her with questions of race and gender roles. Meanwhile she searches for answers to her mysterious parentage, while putting everything she holds dear at risk by getting involved with a notorious trader of secrets.

Jo is a Chinese-American young woman growing up in the aftermath of the Southern Reconstruction, where those of Asian descent have even less rights and are despised more than those who are Black. Jo is hardworking, industrious, with a love for words, and a strong dose of common sense. She is irrepressibly forthright and clever both of which get her into trouble and help her.

A riveting coming of age tale, with distinct and engaging narrative, that shows Jo's wry humor, Southern upbringing, and the influence of Old Gin's Chinese proverbs. As the story progresses, we see that not everyone is what they appear, and long held secrets revealed can change lives. I loved how this book explores a time in history through the eyes of Jo, a minority not commonly acknowledged in historical fiction set in the same time period and place, giving a unique look at Reconstruction Era Atlanta.

Old Gin is the only father Jo has known, he has sacrificed much to raise her and keep her safe, often telling her truths wrapped in proverbs or fables. Noemi is a talented, and determined young woman with big dreams of a better future. Nathan Bell is a forward thinking young man, who challenges himself to look at the story from different angles.

A thoroughly engaging read from beginning to end, I didn't want to put it down! Ms. Lee does an excellent job of crafting complex characters against the backdrop of a young nation fighting for women's rights, turning a blind eye to rampant racism. Secrets whisper, to life in this stunning novel from Stacey Lee, a story about coming of age, equality, courage, truth, secrets, daring, and love. Strong themes of family run through this novel, as well as sacrifice, love and the courage to stand up for yourself. You won't regret picking this one up!

Books reviewed are checked out from my local library or purchased with my own money, unless otherwise noted.

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