The Downstairs Girl

The Downstairs Girl

Book - 2019
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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'"--
Publisher: New York, NY :, G.P. Putnam's Sons,, [2019]
ISBN: 9781524740955
Branch Call Number: TEEN LEE
Characteristics: 374 pages ; 22 cm

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YourLocalReader
Nov 04, 2020

The Downstairs Girls recounts Jo Kuan’s life as an Asian-American woman in Atlanta, Georgia, during the 1800s struggling to make a living. Jo secretly takes up a job to write for a popular newspaper advice column under the pseudonym Miss Sweetie; if anyone finds out, she will encounter scorn and disbelief. First off, I was attracted to this book because of the Asian representation, seen immediately from the cover. I found it utterly refreshing to finally witness a person who shares my race to be the main character without abiding by racial stereotypes. Jo has to be one of the most memorable characters I read: headstrong, unapologetic, smart, and relatable. She is not perfect, but that is one of the most endearing parts of her. There were so many elements incorporating immigrant and Asian lifestyles, making me so proud. The author also identifies as Asian-American making most parts of the story so personable compared to mere research. Some sections of this book made my blood boil towards Jo's unfair treatment. She faced so many racial and gender injustices without reason through racial slurs and jokes. I appreciate how the romance was a subplot to the story, while Jo's exploration of her personal and cultural identity was in the spotlight. Most of the time in novels, I find the main character shadowed by an overbearing romance.


Some flaws I had regarded other characters and the overall pacing. While Jo was spotlighted, there were numerous interactions with other characters that intended to strengthen the plot, but the other characters were lackluster compared to Jo. I honestly think a few months from now, the only person I would remember is Jo, even if some of the characters had a large part in developing her identity. The pacing was a bit off; it was too fast. The ideas were brilliant, but the author rushed them. Some of the plot holes I could see coming, and the ending was rather abrupt. The conclusion broadcasted clear intentions; however, I wish there were a little more leading up to it. Overall, I would give it a fabulous 3.75 stars. The Asian representation was perfection; it captured the essence of what it means to struggle with your cultural identity in an accepting environment. I loved the main character so dearly; moreover, I could relate to her, so I am sure many others would be able to. Contrastingly, the lackluster side characters irked me. They seemed to be merely there without any impact; some of them were a little on the cliche side. The pacing threw me off; it just ended without much leading up to it. A delightful read that will enchant you to most likely finish it within a few days or hours while bringing awareness to the much needed immigrant story. Age recommendation: 12+, although labeled young adult fiction: I found it to be very mild in content. Some mentions of racial slurs( very minimal), mere hints of romance.

JCLS_Ashland_Kristin Oct 08, 2020

Asian representation in historical fiction is pretty limited, so it was nice reading this teen novel about a teen of Chinese descent living in Atlanta in the period immediately following the Civil War.

SAPL_Teens Sep 16, 2020

The Downstairs Girl was an absolutely phenomenal book. From the beginning I was utterly and totally hooked. Jo Kuan, a seventeen year old Chinese-American is our protagonist. Jo and her foster father, Old Gin, live in the basements of the Bell’s house. The Bell’s run a newspaper called the Focus, which Jo is a devoted fan of. Jo diligently worked for Mrs.English’s hat shop, but was fired since she makes the customers “ uncomfortable”. I really admired how the author made us aware right at the start that she was treated differently then her coworker, because of her Asian descent. Once back at home she overhears, from under the Bell’s house, that if the Focus doesn’t get 2000 more subscribers in a month, it would shut down. With her hat job gone, she created an alter ego, Miss Sweetie, and writes columns to help boost their patron count. While doing that she’s found a new job as the maid for the Payne only daughter, Caroline. As Miss.Sweetie’s column rise in popularity, so do Jo’s problems and challenges. This book is a great representation of how people view Asian-American citizens in the late 1800’s. A total classic in the making. 5/5 stars - Maade, SAPL Read It & Review Contributor

ArapahoeTiegan Sep 02, 2020

I love how Stacey Lee creates wonderful historical fiction from the point of view of Chinese-Americans. This is not a point of view you see, especially for the time periods Lee writes within. It gives such a wonderfully unique view into some of the racial ideas of the times and how they affect non-white/non-black peoples. I didn't love the characters in this story as much as in Under A Painted Sky, but it was still an interesting view.

t
tallboot
Jul 25, 2020

Enjoyed the writing style and character more than I expected. The location of this period piece was refreshing.

c
CORI D. MORRIS
Apr 06, 2020

This book sheds so much light on minorities after the Civil War in the deep south. At a time where racism and classicism is still among hardened minds. This story pushes us to rethink how we classify each other. We are still grasping at what human rights is and how we can make the world better for those who are looked down upon.

Jo Kwan struggles to find her place in a society where she is either ignored or considered lesser because of her race. She finds herself frustrated with social niceties and injustices to her person. She starts writing a column addressing these in issues, in the guise of "Miss Sweetie".
She gives her approval to bicycles and woman's rights, and soon becomes a leading voice in the culture pushing controversial topics and handling them with ease. I really love Jo Kwan's story, she goes after truth and honesty with a reckless abandon, she lives life with purpose that is not much seen in any culture. She is her truest self and does not shy away from it.
This is a masterful, beautiful story full of unexpected joy and how a downstairs girl can rise above racism and find herself and her place in society.

FPL_Annie Mar 01, 2020

A charming historical fiction about an opinionated Chinese girl who has a secret identity: she is the author behind "Dear Miss Sweetie", a newspaper advice column challenging fixed ideas of race and gender.

t
twhitehead24
Mar 01, 2020

The writing in this book is beautiful! The imagery, similes, metaphors, and I could go on about the words and writing. Jo lives in an underground area unbeknownst to the owners of the home who also run a newspaper there. She does not know who her mother is and lives with who she believes is her uncle. He never says much about the family but it does eventually come out. So many words to live by and Jo and her uncle do not have it easy. Jo has a tendency to speak her mind which eventually is the reason she is let go from the millery where so made beautiful hats with gorgeous knots. As Jo tries to help the owner of the house/newspaper, she begins to write a column called "Miss Sweetie" where she can speak her mind anonymously. As her column becomes popular so does the newspaper and subscriptions increase and so does speaking her mind. Great story but the words/writing put it over the top.

j
julia_sedai
Feb 23, 2020

I've liked all of this author's books so far and this one was good as well.

Very interesting to read about a Chinese-American girl in 1890 Atlanta, Georgia, who is neither black or white. I appreciated the historical detail and facts, and, although some of the plot seemed a stretch, overall it was a good story. I do wish there was a sequel to it, though. I felt a few things at the end left me hanging.

Tigard_HollyCP Feb 14, 2020

It’s 1890, and seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan lives with Old Gin in what used to be an underground railroad hideaway in Atlanta. They live kind of on the margins, not black, not white. The basement in which they live is unknown even to the people who live in the house above them, a publisher and his wife and son. Jo feels partly as if she was raised by the Bells, listening to Mrs. Bell tell little Nathan bedtime stories, eavesdropping as Mr. Bell works on his newspaper stories. They don’t know she exists. She doesn’t know her parents, only Old Gin, who took her under his wing when she was found abandoned as an infant. When she is sacked for no good reason by the hatmaker and re-hired by a mistress who had previously fired her (also for no good reason), she is required to spend most of her days with the most unpleasant Caroline Payne. But the work that really matters to her is her new job as the anonymous author of the Miss Sweetie agony aunt column in the Bells’ newspaper, her goal to save them from shuttering their doors because of lack of readership. Jo has a unique, often dry and sarcastic voice and is clever with her words. I LOVE her character. Through most of the book I thought I would rate it 5 stars, but I had to lower it to 4 ½ because toward the end some of the relationship development did not seem realistic to me. No matter, it is an enjoyable read that opens a window to a part of American history I knew little about.

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CORI D. MORRIS
Apr 06, 2020

CORI D. MORRIS thinks this title is suitable for 12 years and over

WVMLlibrarianShannon Jan 23, 2020

WVMLlibrarianShannon thinks this title is suitable for 12 years and over

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