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Quick take

A fly-on-the-wall style historical fiction, where you can soak up family drama and societal issues all at once.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Emotional

    Emotional

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Feminist

    Feminist

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SocialIssues

    Social issues

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_FamilyDrama

    Family drama

Why I love it

My recipe for an ideal historical novel goes something like this: 1 part unapologetic female protagonist; 1 part engaging storyline; and 1 part eye-opening glimpse into a part of history we must never forget. With this in mind I give you The Downstairs Girl, a beautifully written story of a spunky teenage journalist living in 19th-century Atlanta.

Jo Kuan spends her days working as a maid for a wealthy young socialite. But her real passion is her writing—she’s the anonymous author of “Dear Miss Sweetie,” an advice column for Southern women. When her column starts drawing an audience, Jo uses her platform to shed light on gender and racial discrimination. But when her writing starts to piss off some pretty powerful people, suddenly everyone wants to know who Miss Sweetie really is—including Jo herself, who sets off to uncover the identity of her birth parents.

This book has it all: mystery, buried secrets, family drama… and then there’s Jo, who’s sharp, brave, witty, and exactly the kind of character I want to spend a novel with. The Downstairs Girl is a powerful portrait of one plucky Chinese-American heroine living and working in the beginning of the Jim Crow south.

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Synopsis

By day, seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan works as a lady's maid for the cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta. But by night, Jo moonlights as the pseudonymous author of a newspaper advice column for the genteel Southern lady, "Dear Miss Sweetie." When her column becomes wildly popular, she uses the power of the pen to address some of society's ills, but she's not prepared for the backlash that follows when her column challenges fixed ideas about race and gender.

While her opponents clamor to uncover the secret identity of Miss Sweetie, a mysterious letter sets Jo off on a search for her own past and the parents who abandoned her as a baby. But when her efforts put her in the crosshairs of Atlanta's most notorious criminal, Jo must decide whether she, a girl used to living in the shadows, is ready to step into the light.

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Sneak peek

Check out a preview of The Downstairs Girl.

Read a sample →
Young adult
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