Jo Kuan is the gorgeous girl on the cover and she’s got a lot going on. She was just fired from her job at the milliner’s making hats (her passion) so she is forced to work as a lady’s maid to a truly awful girl her own age. She secretly lives (and has always lived) with an elderly Chinese man (her adoptive father) in an abandoned cellar beneath the home of the local newspaper man and his family (which includes his clever teenage son). And she’ll go to any lengths to discover the true identity of her parents whom she has never known.
When she overhears the newspaper man and his son discussing the desperate measures necessary to save their newspaper, Jo knows she needs to intervene. If the newspaper goes under, she’ll lose her secret home. Quick-witted Jo decides to become an anonymous advice columnist under the name Miss Sweetie, where she can use her voice to right society’s wrongs and stir up enough controversy to boost newspaper sales. It’s not hard to guess that Jo has bitten off more than she can chew as her secrets become susceptible to discovery.
Author Stacey Lee has a gift for writing Chinese American characters coming of age around the turn of the century. Every time I read one of her books (her first, A Painted Sky, is my favorite), I am amazed at how little I know about the plight of Chinese Americans (and Asian Americans, in general - actually, about anyone NOT WHITE) during this time period. Lee puts Jo in a situation where she can write under the pseudonym of Miss Sweetie which gives Jo the opportunity to be brave and write about the issues that concern her - poverty, race, gender, suffrage. Issues that no one is discussing. Not only is this an effective writing technique for the plot development but it's the perfect way to expose these realities to readers. And is why I will read and promote every book Stacey Lee writes.
Wanna hear more? I really liked the Bedtime Bookworm's review and discussion:
Jaguar Readers: Downstairs Girl is currently available on audio in our Sora catalog to an unlimited amount of readers (through July 31). It is also available on audio through Hoopla at the public library. The eBook is available at the public library through Overdrive. As always, please reach out to your lit librarians if you need help accessing this or any book!