The Downstairs Girl

Putnam. Aug. 2019. 384p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781524740955.
Gr 7 Up–Jo Kuan knows that because she’s Chinese, she does not fit anyone’s expectations in 1890 Atlanta, but she doesn’t mind. She’s happy to be unobtrusive, making hats for the fashionable women in town and staying out of trouble with her adoptive father, Old Gin. But when she loses her job at the hat shop, Jo must find work elsewhere, returning to the household of one of the most important families in town to serve as a lady’s maid for their daughter. Saddled with an ungrateful mistress, Jo must face the inequalities in her city. Frustrated, she begins penning an anonymous advice column as “Miss Sweetie,” dispensing opinions on everything from fashion to suffragettes. Jo is happy with anonymity, but soon Atlanta is abuzz with curiosity about Miss Sweetie, leading Jo to wonder if remaining quiet and safe is the most important thing or if there are reasons to speak up. Along the way, she uncovers truths about her own past that call into question even more of the inequalities she sees in the present. Though society may try to push aside those it sees as different, Jo demonstrates that everyone has a place and a story to be told.
VERDICT Unflinching in its portrayals of racism yet ultimately hopeful and heartfelt, this narrative places voices frequently left out of historical fiction center stage. Recommended for any collection

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