Review: The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

Posted April 8, 2021 by Angie in Book Reviews / 2 Comments

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Review: The Downstairs Girl by Stacey LeeThe Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on August 13, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Historical
Format: eBook (383 pages)
Source: Library
Purchase: AmazonIndieBound
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From the founding member of We Need Diverse Books comes a powerful novel about identity, betrayal, and the meaning of family.

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.


Proceed With Caution:

This book contains period-typical racism, a mention of rape, and violence.

The Basics:

Set in 1890 Atlanta, The Downstairs Girl follows seventeen-year-old Jo, a Chinese American girl just trying to get by. But certain events lead to her stepping up, finding her voice and her family.

My Thoughts:

The Downstairs Girl is a very subtle novel. What I mean is that there’s no big plot or sweeping romance. There is a good plot, but it takes a long time to come together. There is some romantic elements, but not a full-blown romance. When we meet Jo, she’s being fired from her job as a milliner and she’s been blacklisted from all of the other millinerys in the city. She didn’t do anything wrong. She’s just an opinionated Chinese girl and that’s enough for her boss. Not all is lost though as she overhears a very promising conversation in the newspaper press above the basement where she lives with Old Gin, her adoptive father.

Jo is going to become the new advice columnist! Of course, she has to remain anonymous, but this gives her a way to help out the family that doesn’t know she’s been living in their basement for years. And she can voice opinions that she’d never get to say in her everyday life, such as pushes for gender and racial equality! Obviously being unmasked is one of the minor plot points, but it all works out in the end.

There is small and adorable romance blossoming in The Downstairs Girl. Jo has a crush on the boy who lives and works upstairs. They’ve had a couple of run ins, but she knows nothing can happen. However, when she’s disguised as Miss Sweetie, the two can flirt with word play and puns! They’re too freaking cute! There’s no drama between them, no “you lied to me” nonsense. It’s just sweet cuteness and I wish there was more. And he has a dog named Bear who helps push them together!

I just really enjoyed The Downstairs Girl. It was a pleasant way to spend my day watching Jo come into herself, uncover the truth and fight for those who can’t fight for themselves in the small ways that she can.

Quotes from The Downstairs Girl:

As long as you have a home, you have a place to plan and dream. (page 6)

“There are some people, when you meet them, you feel as if you’ve known them all your life. And then there are people who live under your nose all your life, yet you don’t know them at all. (page 169)

Coincidence is just destiny unfolding. (page 268)

The biggest threats are the ones we fail to acknowledge. (page 349)

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