Book Review: The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

The Downstairs Girl by Stacy Lee

Rating: 4/5

What it’s about:

In 1890 Atlanta, Georgia, seventeen year old Jo Kuan and her caretaker, Old Gin, carve out a small life secretly living in an old underground tunnel. Jo leads a double life working as a lady’s maid but also writes a women’s advice column for her local newspaper using the pseudonym, Miss Sweetie. As a Chinese American in the South, Jo experiences a complex life not quite knowing where she belongs or the identity of her parents. Jo is determined to rise above racial, gender, and socioeconomic inequalities as she tries to make a better life for herself. ⁠⠀

What I liked:

The book had a well developed diverse cast of characters. Jo was an amazing heroine. I was rooting for her the entire time. Jo is honest, hardworking, and disciplined with her actions. She did have moments of weakness but she always found ways to overcome them. There is a good balance between Jo being independent while still relying on the help of the people close to her to achieve her goals. I also loved Old Gin, he always had a wise and practical response to every situation. The author gave just enough details to build the setting while keeping the focus on Jo’s story. ⁠⠀
I would recommend this book to readers who want a character-driven story about female empowerment and gumption! 

What I didn’t like:

There wasn’t much that I didn’t like. Sometimes the story felt like there were too many side situations going on. But I think their purpose was to develop Jo’s character. There is a small love interest in the story with a very sweet and kind boy that I wish had been more developed. ⁠⠀

Interesting Links

The Georgia Globe Design News website has a collection of images along with brief history facts about the first buildings in Atlanta, Georgia from 1830-1900. I found them helpful in creating the setting in my mind as I read the book.

A big part of the book deals with Jo’s experience as a Chinese American in the post Civil War South. NPR has a short audio interview and AJ+ a video episode on the Mississippi Delta Chinese that share some history on Chinese immigrants in the South. It was a completely new topic for me and definitely not something that we learned in school.

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