The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

Tuesday, September 3, 2019


by Stacey Lee
Genres: Historical, YA
Publisher: Penguin Teen
Publication Date: August 13th 2019
Source: Bought
Star Quotient: ★★★★
Kiss Factor: ✷✷✷✷

Stacey Lee is one of those authors who crafts simple stories that manage to be poignant and evocative. As a huge fan of Stacey Lee's backlist, I have been eagerly anticipating the release of The Downstairs Girl. It was another excellent book from this author that managed to be fresh, interesting, and entertaining.

Jo Kuan is a Chinese American young woman navigating life in 1890 Atlanta. In Jo, Stacey Lee pens an endearing, clever, and lovable heroine whose courage and resilience are the headliners of The Downstairs Girl. She secretly lives with her guardian, Old Gin, in a basement under a wealthy family who own a print shop. When she overhears the family discuss an agony aunt column, she decides to become the anonymous agony aunt herself. When she isn't responding to the letters in the evening, Jo is forced to work as a maid for the Paynes to earn some coin. I have to give credit to Stacey Lee for always managing to write spirited main characters who are so compelling to read about. You go on an incredible journey of discovery with Jo in The Downstairs Girl and what a riveting experience the whole thing was. Along the way, Jo learns much about herself, the society around her, and secrets about her family. Though I loved every facet of Jo's personality, it was how she handled herself in the vulnerable moments that had me easily becoming attached to her. I could easily see myself befriending Jo if she were a real person!

Stacey Lee not only takes her time at fleshing out Jo as the main character, but she also does not leave the secondary cast behind. I enjoyed all of the cast, including the frustrating ones, such as the Payne's spoiled bratty daughter, Caroline, because their backstories and personalities were beautifully written. Jo finds a romantic partner in Nathan, the upstairs folks' son and journalist. It wasn't a romance that was in your face. Instead given the era and the circumstances, it was sweet and subtle, yet somehow satisfying. What I enormously enjoy in Stacey Lee's books is how she highlights historical events centered around Asian Americans. Most of these events, I had no solid knowledge of prior to reading her books. In The Downstairs Girl, Lee tackles class, racism, and segregation in the early stages of the suffragist movement. The author transports you right in the middle of 1890 Atlanta with the vivid and luscious historical details. I would recommend reading this book just for that memorable and often heart-wrenching experience.

Truly, what an exceedingly talented author Stacey Lee is. She goes far and beyond to impress readers with every new release and The Downstairs Girl is easily one of my favorite books from hers. The Dowstairs Girl is a story that may take place in a bleak era for people of color, but it manages to be hopeful.

What are some books that you have read that tackled underrepresented historical events?
Let me know in the comments below!

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