The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

Genre: Historical Fiction

Number of Pages: 374

In 1890 Atlanta, Jo Kuan is trying to make her way in the world when people often look down on Asian American people. She had previously spent two years working as a milliner’s apprentice only to abruptly lose her job simply because the milliner said she made some people uncomfortable. With few options, she takes a job as a ladies’ maid for a cruel young lady named Caroline. Jo and the man who raised her secretly live underneath the house of a family who run a newspaper. Jo can hear through the floor that the newspaper is struggling and so she anonymously starts writing a ladies column under the pen name Miss Sweetie and starts leaving them under the door. So, by day she works as a maid in a thankless job and by night she secretly writes her column that isn’t afraid to touch on issues such as women’s rights and courting practices. As such, her column becomes an overnight sensation as everyone debates who Miss Sweetie could be. She knows if she is ever discovered she will be cast out because she is not meant to rise above her station in any way. Meanwhile, the adult son of the family who lives above her is very interested to find out who is writing the column for his now popular newspaper, but can he be trusted? Also, the man who raised her has been acting peculiarly and she thinks he is hiding something. Could he be trying to arrange a marriage for her?

Even though this book is set in 1890 there are many issues that relate to today. Jo Kuan is trying to find acceptance in a place where she is judged by her face and her name. She knows she has a lot to offer society, but isn’t sure they will ever let her. It’s a struggle for her to fight the prejudices about not only her race but also her gender and she desperately wants to find a way to make a difference. At the same time, she often shows kindness and compassion for those who have a lot more opportunity in life. She never takes her personal frustrations out on those who were simply dealt an easier lot in life. There are those around her who do try to treat her fairly, but it is difficult knowing how hard everything has to be for people of certain circumstances. This story is recommended for those who like historical fiction, but also those who like more contemporary books such as The Hate You Give. This title also leaves the reader with a lot to think about.

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