Have I talked about how much I love historical fiction lately? Because I love it. The intricate details, the sense of time and place, the enduring themes of hope and perseverance—historical fiction is one of my favorite genres to read. (Some days I almost like it more than fantasy.) The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee is no exception. Filled with gripping historical drama, diverse characters, and ageless themes addressing prejudice, freedom, and worth, this is one of the best books I’ve read this year.
By day, Jo works as the maid for the daughter of one of the wealthiest family’s in Atlanta. By night, she writes a newspaper advice column under the pseudonym of “Miss Sweetie.” When the column becomes popular, she starts using it to address some of society’s ills about race and gender, only to receive backlash for her strong opinions. Meanwhile, threats from the city’s notorious underworld set Jo on a search to learn the truth about the parents who abandoned her.
The Downstairs Girl is a powerful story of heartbreak and triumphant and overcoming the odds. Jo is a fantastic main character. Her spunk and determination inspire me to be a better person. There are moments where I laughed out loud at Jo’s sass and cringed at how she was treated for being Chinese.
This book addresses how people of color were treated in the South following the Civil War. I’m not a person of color, but this book left me heartbroken than anybody could treat someone else with such disgust and contempt. I appreciate how careful yet honest Stacey Lee was as she addressed these issues that are still, unfortunately, prevalent in our society. Part of the reason I love historical fiction is because it points out social issues with raw honesty and help readers understand someone else’s point of view so we can all be better people. Stacey Lee’s story does just this and more.
Another aspect of The Downstairs Girl I appreciate is the glimpse of romance. A lot of YA stories tend to be overrun with love interests and romance that take away from the main plot. But the romance in this is just a glimpse. It doesn’t overshadow the important aspects. Instead, there are simple and sweet lines that made my heart sing and my feelings all squishy.
The writing is absolutely beautiful as well. The story and characters came to life, but the writing blew me away. Over and over, I was struck with how unique and refreshing her descriptions were.
While YA, I think any audience of historical fiction could enjoy The Downstairs Girl. Stacey Lee has written a powerful story addressing race, gender, and identity while still remaining upbeat and positive and hopeful.