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The Downstairs Girl

by Stacey Lee

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4461943,866 (3.98)12
"1890, Atlanta. By day, seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan works as a lady's maid for the cruel Caroline Payne, the 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'"--
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» See also 12 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
I was going to give this four stars but I'm bumping it up because my mum, who is sick in bed right now, was so very charmed and entertained by this book and she never likes anything. ( )
  fionaanne | Nov 11, 2021 |
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, Mr. Payne. 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 (Billy Riggs), 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 of 1890. Very fast climactic ending with all sorts of surprises!!

Best characters: main character Jo, her voice is incredibly insightful; funny: sometimes sarcastic, sometimes joking
her “upstairs” family, the Bells -publishers of The Atlanta Focus (newspaper) , esp their teenage son Nathan…. She disguises herself, offers her advice columns samples to him and helps the family newspaper become one ot the most read in Atlanta
Caroline Payne, the young woman Jo accompanies -lady’s maid for the wealthy Payne family- snooty, demanding and maybe sneaking around behind her friend’s back seeing Mr. Quackenbach, her “betrothed” or as Jo calls it “playing a little petticoat peekaboo”
Sweet Potato – riding horse owned by Old Gin, Jo’s guardian and stable master at Payne estate
Horse race ---- social politics------ suffragette (women’s vote) movement---- new inventions: the bicycle!---- urban growth/crime ---- racial discrimination of Asians – finding one’s parents ( )
  BDartnall | Oct 12, 2021 |
After a reading audiobook slump this was great, older teen read probably or early adult. Very interesting about the treatment of Chinese in the South during the time period. Highly recommend.
Strong protagonist, character growth, horse races, and superb narration. It is a good read. ( )
  MorbidLibrarian | Sep 18, 2021 |
Jo Kuan is a Chinese American young woman living in segregated Atlanta in the years following the Civil War. I loved that she was a strong character that shared her opinions fearlessly in a creative way. I felt like much of the novel was predictable, but it was still entertaining. It was a slice of history, particularly the Chinese American experience, that I knew little about.

“We are all like candles, and whether we are single or joined with another does not affect how brightly we can burn.”

“Somehow, Old Gin and I have managed to fit ourselves into a society that, like a newspaper, rarely comes in colors other than black and white.” ( )
  bookworm12 | May 28, 2021 |
I am not a YA enthusiast. I occasionally read in this genre for book clubs and am sometimes pleasantly surprised. However in this book, my concern is that we not minimize or simplify the egregious behavior that people of color were/are required to tolerate and we must always hold up the hard work of gaining and maintaining freedoms lost and won. There was a lot of information thrown into the plot lines, but it lacked the depth needed to fully articulate the toxic conditions in Gilded Age Atlanta . Relying on YA historical fiction to do that can be a tricky road if it is not backed up by real historical study. As adults we need to dig much deeper.
As far as the writing I did appreciate the attempt to convey the Chinese way of using multiple truisms to learn life lessons, but it was over the top for me. In my opinion, less figurative language sprinkled throughout the narrative would have been more powerful. I also appreciated the mind/body references from Hammer Foot. And oh the millinery-beautiful visions of artistic handwork. ( )
  beebeereads | May 23, 2021 |
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"1890, Atlanta. By day, seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan works as a lady's maid for the cruel Caroline Payne, the 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'"--

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