Stacey Lee is a fairly well-known name when it comes to young adult fiction. Not only is she a writer of historical young adult fiction, she is also one of the founders of the We Need Diverse Books movement and non-profit organization.
With The Downstairs Girl, Lee takes us to Atlanta, Georgia in the late 1800s. I’m sure I’m not the only reader to be surprised to learn that Chinese workers were shipped to the South to replace the field Black slaves after slavery was abolished. It was interesting read about the experience of the Chinese in America in the late 1800s as more often than not, their contributions and experience are left out of the mainstream history textbooks.
The Downstairs Girl works as it is obvious a ton of research was done to ensure that the story was historically accurate. This was obvious with portrayal of the major issues during this time including racism and the suffrage movement. It doesn’t shy away from the fact that the white women leading the suffragist were only interested in rights for (white) women, and they did not feel the need to consider intersectionality in their fight for women’s rights even though Black women like Noemi in the book were instrumental in the suffrage movement. Still I liked the female characters and their interactions and relationships in the book, and I appreciated how plucky both Jo and Noemi were. Furthermore, without spoiling too much, I loved the relationship Jo has with Old Gin who raised her and taught her everything she loves about horses.
The Downstairs Girl has all the makings of a decent historical fiction read. That being said, even with its distinctive characters and unique premise and setting I wasn’t completely sold on it. For one, I could have done without the romance in the book, and I also felt that parts of the story dragged. Still the book feels truly authentic and gives readers new insight into the suffragists and the South on top of the Chinese experience in the South in 1860s America.
Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.