'A triumph of storytelling. A bold portrait of this country's past, brilliantly painted with wit, heartbreak, and unflinching honesty. Everyone needs to read this book' Stephanie Garber, New York Times bestselling author of Caraval
Jo Kuan is leading a double life. By day, she works as a quiet lady's maid, but by night, she's the voice behind the most radical advice column in 1890s Atlanta.
Jo is used to living life on the margins - invisible except for the occasional looks of disdain - but she won't let it hold her back. While her priority is making sure that she and her father, Old Gin, remain safe in their hideaway beneath a print shop, she still has ambition. And strong opinions of her own that she begins to share in a newspaper advice column under the pseudonym 'Miss Sweetie'. Suddenly, all of Atlanta is talking about her ideas, although little do they know that the witty advice comes from a penniless Chinese girl.
As curiosity about Miss Sweetie mounts, Jo's secret identity may not stay secret for much longer. And as she learns more of the hard truths about her identity and her country, she must find the courage to decide between being herself or staying invisible . . .
'[A] thrilling historical novel' Booklist
'Clever, funny, and poignant, The Downstairs Girl is Stacey Lee at her best' Evelyn Skye, New York Times bestselling author of The Crown's Game
'Prepare to fall headlong in love with The Downstairs Girl. I certainly did!' Robin LaFevers, New York Times bestselling author of the His Fair Assassin trilogy
'A jewel of a story. By shining a light on the lives of those whom history usually ignores, Stacey Lee gives us a marvellous gift: An entirely new and riveting look at our past' Candace Fleming, award-winning author of The Family Romanov
'Immersive, important, and thoroughly entertaining, The Downstairs Girl sparkles with all of Stacey Lee's signature humor, charm, warmth, and wisdom' Kelly Loy Gilbert, Morris Award Finalist for Conviction
In 1890 Atlanta, Chinese-American Jo Kuan, 17, and her guardian, Old Gin, live secretly in abolitionists' quarters underneath the family home of Mr. Bell, publisher of failing newspaper the Focus. When Jo loses her job as a milliner's assistant, she reluctantly takes a job with her former employer, wealthy Mrs. Payne, as lady's maid to her cantankerous daughter Caroline. Jo endures Caroline's cruelty each day, but after overhearing the Bells' wish for an "agony aunt," she anonymously offers her services as a columnist. As "Miss Sweetie," she voices her true feelings about society's ills in a cleverly written column that addresses many forms of prejudice, sparking controversy while increasing the newspaper's subscriptions and raising questions about her identity. Lee (Under a Painted Sky) slowly unspools secrets about Jo's past as she liaises with Atlanta's notorious fixer, pieces together clues about the parents who abandoned her, and navigates self-realization and romance. Featuring historical signposts (streetcar segregation, suffragists on safety bicycles) and memorable, well-developed characters, this captivating novel explores intersectionality, conveys the effects of restrictions placed on women and people of color, and celebrates the strengths and talents of marginalized people struggling to break society's barriers in any age. Ages 12 up.