The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

Historical Fiction, 384 pages, published in 2019

Set in Atlanta in the 1890’s, Jo Kuan is working as a maid for a cruel mistress when she sees an opportunity to help the newspaper company that has unknowingly helped her. She becomes Miss Sweetie, an anonymous (and presumed white) advice column writer, but her secret is always under threat of being exposed.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: racist language and actions

I really don’t read historical fiction that often, so I expecting to just enjoy this book, but I actually ended up really loving it! It was just a heartwarming story that also tackled a lot of heavy topics as well.

The first thing that came as a shock to me was that Chinese people were used as cheap labor in America after slavery was abolished in order to replace slaves. I really never knew this. I had to take so many American history courses throughout all levels of schooling and not a single one mentioned this at all.

I really enjoy Jo as a character! She is so sassy and genuinely funny. The pieces that she wrote for the newspaper, both editorials and answering readers’ mail, was so good! They were all smart, funny, and eloquent. She is understandably timid at the beginning of this book because of her precarious place in society, but I loved seeing her find her voice throughout the book, even if it had to be within the confines of what society deemed as acceptable.

This book ended up tackling some pretty heavy topics, like racism, sexism, and the intersection of those. Jo joins a women’s suffrage meeting, but is basically treated as trash because the white women running the meeting don’t think non-white women deserve to vote. Chinese people aren’t allowed to rent or buy property, so they are basically forced to live on the outskirts of society.

The romance in this book was super sweet and adorable! It’s not really a focus, but I just loved it and I loved how it was left at the end of the book.

The plot of this book ended up surprising me, because I had thought it had to do mostly with the newspaper, but there were also other elements, like horses and a crime boss, that played big roles.

Overall, I just really loved this book! It is the kind of lowkey historical fiction that I really end up enjoying.

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