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The Downstairs Girl
Cover of The Downstairs Girl
The Downstairs Girl
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From the critically-acclaimed author of Under a Painted Sky and Outrun the Moon and 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.
From the critically-acclaimed author of Under a Painted Sky and Outrun the Moon and 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.
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About the Author-
  • Stacey Lee is the critically acclaimed author and winner of the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction. She is a fourth-generation Chinese American and lives with her family outside San Francisco. Visit Stacey at staceyhlee.com.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from June 10, 2019
    In 1890 Atlanta, Chinese-American Jo Kuan, 17, and her guardian, Old Gin, live secretly in abolitionists’ quarters underneath the family home of Mr. Bell, publisher of failing newspaper the Focus. When Jo loses her job as a milliner’s assistant, she reluctantly takes a job with her former employer, wealthy Mrs. Payne, as lady’s maid to her cantankerous daughter Caroline. Jo endures Caroline’s cruelty each day, but after overhearing the Bells’ wish for an “agony aunt,” she anonymously offers her services as a columnist. As “Miss Sweetie,” she voices her true feelings about society’s ills in a cleverly written column that addresses many forms of prejudice, sparking controversy while increasing the newspaper’s subscriptions—and raising questions about her identity. Lee (Under a Painted Sky) slowly unspools secrets about Jo’s past as she liaises with Atlanta’s notorious fixer, pieces together clues about the parents who abandoned her, and navigates self-realization and romance. Featuring historical signposts (streetcar segregation, suffragists on safety bicycles) and memorable, well-developed characters, this captivating novel explores intersectionality, conveys the effects of restrictions placed on women and people of color, and celebrates the strengths and talents of marginalized people struggling to break society’s barriers in any age. Ages 12–up. Agent: Kristin Nelson, Nelson Literary Agent.

  • AudioFile Magazine Emily Woo Zeller's dynamic narration and Southern accent pair well with the author's elegant writing style. Jo Kuan, a 17-year-old Chinese-American, lives two lives. She is the lady's maid of the daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta. She is also the pseudonymous voice behind the wildly popular and controversial newspaper advice columnist "Miss Sweetie." Zeller masterfully employs varied tone, pace, pitch, and accent strength to convey the men and women of late-nineteenth-century Atlanta. The first-person narrator's Southern accent is stronger than Jo's spoken accent in dialogue, a noticeable juxtaposition that, while helping with the setting, can be a bit confusing. But Zeller's intense energy during moments of tension is wonderfully immersive, making this audiobook hard to pause. A.K.R. � AudioFile 2019, Portland, Maine
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The Downstairs Girl
The Downstairs Girl
Stacey Lee
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