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Mar 30

Teens Review: The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

Posted on March 30, 2021 at 12:00 AM by Elizabeth Land

Book Reviews by YCPL teens and tweensTeens & Tweens Review is an opportunity for York County Public Library teens and tweens to write book reviews for their peers. Check out what our youth are reading below, and then see our list of read-alike titles suggested by YCPL staff.

Title: The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
Reviewed by: Seneca H., 11th Grade
Rating: 4 Stars

The Downstairs Girl book coverThe Downstairs Girl by Stacy Lee is a fantastic historical fiction novel with mystery, intrigue, romance, teenage relatability, and of course, history from a unique viewpoint. I especially loved this book because it portrayed a teenage girl in a relatable way, but in a completely different world from what I am used to today.
The main character, Jo Kuan, underwent trials and tribulations to the point where it felt, as a reader, that it couldn’t get much worse. However, as the first half of the novel containing her problems ended and solutions started to emerge, I realized the first half helped me to develop a deep emotional connection to Jo. Lee does a fantastic job of taking these frustrations or difficulties and wrapping them up in beautiful life lessons to teach Jo about herself, ultimately helping with the conclusion and the surprising twist at the end. I may not have the same struggles or can completely understand her social situation as a Chinese American during the age of Jim Crow laws and racism towards anyone who was not white, but I thoroughly enjoyed escaping the problems of today's world to go back in time.
The author, being a fourth generation Chinese American herself was able to provide some of the cultural and social aspects of the story which added to its authenticity and increased my ability to understand the era I was reading about. I also absolutely loved the transformation of Jo Kuan into her penname, Miss Sweetie, and how the two characters seemed to blend into one as Jo gained confidence and grew into herself.
It's very important to me that historical fiction books don't become redundant with concepts students are taught in school, so it was great that this book was from a perspective most people don't know about. I learned about this exact era in my advanced history class at the same time I was reading the book so I could understand societal concepts easier. Without spoiling too much or discussing the ending of the book in detail, the conclusion of the story was brilliant and well worth reading because it tied so many things together from life both outside and inside the book. I would most definitely suggest this book to anyone who loves historical fiction or to anyone who enjoys books that provide an escape to a different world with different rules and expectations than the one we know today.

Related books from YCPL
If you're looking for something similar to The Downstairs Girl, try these great YA options:

  • The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
    Summary: Fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs, just like the heroines in her beloved novels, yearns for real life and true love. But what hope is there for adventure, beauty, or art on a hardscrabble farm in Pennsylvania where the work never ends? Inventing Victoria book cover Over the summer of 1911, Joan pours her heart out into her diary as she seeks a new, better life for herself--because maybe, just maybe, a hired girl cleaning and cooking for six dollars a week can become what a farm girl could only dream of--a woman with a future.
  • Inventing Victoria by Tonya Bolden
    Summary: Essie, a young black woman in 1880s Savannah, is offered the opportunity to leave her shameful past and be transformed into an educated, high-society woman in Washington, D.C.
  • Luxe by Ana Godberson
    Summary: This is Manhattan, 1899. Beautiful sisters Elizabeth and Diana Holland rule Manhattan's social scene. Or so it appears. When the girls discover their status among New York City's elite is far from secure, suddenly everyone—from the backstabbing socialite Penelope Hayes, to the debonair bachelor Henry Schoonmaker, to the spiteful maid Lina Broud—threatens Elizabeth's and Diana's golden future.