Meg Dendler's Reviews > The Downstairs Girl

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey  Lee
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it was amazing

Jo Kuan is sassy and witty and delightful, and having been raised by a wise Chinese man (Old Gin), she is also full of old proverbs and sayings she has picked up along the way. Sometimes being an eloquent minority is a blessing, but it gets her into trouble more times than not. Being Chinese, Jo must always know her place. The Downstairs Girl presents race relations in the late 1800s in the South from an interesting outside view. Jo is neither white nor “colored,” and she often doesn’t know where to stand—or sit, more specifically, when the streetcars are segregated. Not fitting into either group, the Chinese often found themselves in worse conditions than blacks: unable to even rent property. And the story also tackles women’s suffrage and not only the desire to vote but the uprising of women who insisted on having a voice in their homes and communities.

That theme of finding your place in the world enrobes the whole story, and that is more than a teenage problem. Jo is ready to fight for her future more than the law will allow, and she is fully aware of the challenges ahead to have what would be considered even a reasonably comfortable life. There’s a bit of romance, and a bit of reality.

I love, love, love this book! I had to stop with about 30 pages left, and all day long I kept fussing about getting back to it for the conclusion. I must say, however, that I do not think this novel should be categorized as YA. Maybe NA, that elusive group, but it really reads more like any women’s historical fiction novel. I fear Lee is missing a huge chunk of readers who would thoroughly enjoy it but won’t pick it up because they don’t read YA. Yes, it is written in first person present tense, which didn’t annoy me as much as it usually does, but that doesn’t make it automatically YA. There’s no high school angst or lingo or even teenage situations to navigate. Jo lives in the world of the adults of the 1890s and faces grown-up problems. Maybe all the fuss about how good the novel is will bring in more readers so Lee’s work can be fully appreciated.

*I reviewed this book as a second round judge of the Cybils Book Awards, but I checked my copy out of the local library (did not receive a free copy from the publisher) and am under no obligation to post a positive review.

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Reading Progress

January 3, 2020 – Started Reading
January 3, 2020 – Shelved
January 4, 2020 –
page 50
January 6, 2020 –
page 201
January 6, 2020 – Finished Reading
January 8, 2020 –
page 373

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