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YA Review: The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

Title: The Downstairs Girl
AuthorStacey Lee
Year Published: 2019

Genre: YA fiction (historical)
Pages: 366
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2020 Google Reading map)USA (GA)

FTC Disclosure: I received this book as a gift

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): By day, seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan works as a lady's maid for the cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta. But by night, Jo moonlights as the pseudonymous author of a newspaper advice column for the genteel Southern lady, "Dear Miss Sweetie."

When her column becomes wildly popular, she uses the power of the pen to address some of society's ills, but she's not prepared for the backlash that follows when her column challenges fixed ideas about race and gender. While her opponents clamor to uncover the secret identity of Miss Sweetie, a mysterious letter sets Jo off on a search for her own past and the parents who abandoned her as a baby. But when her efforts put her in the crosshairs of Atlanta's most notorious criminal, Jo must decide whether she, a girl used to living in the shadows, is ready to step into the light. With prose that is witty, insightful, and at times heartbreaking, Stacey Lee masterfully crafts an extraordinary social drama set in the New South.

Review: This book is another finalist for the 2019 CYBILS and I was really excited because I had it on my TBR shelf and wanted to read it anyway! Perfect.

This book is so different from a lot of other YA, which made it extra fun to read. I love YA historical fiction and this one covered an era I haven't read about before: Reconstruction in the southern US states. In addition, this story focuses on a Chinese woman (while not ignoring issues of African-Americans) and how post Civil War issues affect her.

Jo Kuan is a strong and independent character who manages to work the system so that she can make money and fit into society. She knows what her strengths are (hat making, writing, her spunk) and how to use them to her advantage. I love the relationship between her and some of the other servants as well as between her and Old Gin.

About two thirds through the book there are some twists that I didn't see coming and that was fun since they were totally believable. Although I am not sure how this book will do with most teenagers, if you are someone who enjoys historical fiction and an underdog story then I recommend this one highly. And that cover, I love it!

Challenges for which this counts: 
For the Pop Sugar challenge, this book was written by a woman of color


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