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All booksYoung adultThe Downstairs Girl
The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
Young adult

The Downstairs Girl

by Stacey Lee

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


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Feminist


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SocialIssues

    Social issues

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_FamilyDrama

    Family drama

Why I love it

Brianna Goodman
BOTM Editorial Team

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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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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Check out a preview of The Downstairs Girl.

Member thoughts

All (567)
All (567)
Love (292)
Like (250)
Dislike (25)
587 ratings
  • 50% Love
  • 43% Like
  • 4% Dislike
  • Marietta , GA

    Full of fun and fire Jo is the leading lady we all want to read about. She’s sassy and smart. The plot is fun and engaging. Loved all the secrets revealed that added depth to who she was as a person.

  • Queen Creek, AZ

    A fantastic story. We don’t hear as often about the struggle Chinese Americans faced in our country but this is a narrative that needs to be shared. Such a great perspective and I loved the characters

  • Pine Bluff, AR

    It’s an amazing, empowering book. It truly inspires me to be myself and to not be afraid of judgement. It also gives me a new outlook on what Chinese people had to go through during that time period.

  • Kissimmee, FL

    This book has such rich and vibrant characters that I couldn't help but be invested immediately and for the entire duration of the book. Particularly Jo Kuan. What a joy to read from her perspective.

  • Rockwood , PA

    I didn't know that Chinese were involved in America in that way! Eye-opening and beautiful. Only reason not to like it? Author seems to imply that progressive back then is the same as it is today. No.

  • Farmington Hills, MI

    Great book! Jo definitely grew as a young woman. Even if her family unit was different, she was loved and supported by many. She learned to thrive & break out of her cage. She's also a great writer.

  • Honolulu, HI

    I LOVED this one-a very smart YA historical novel with a wonderful heroine! I learned so much about the Chinese immigrant experience in Atlanta & the role of black women in the suffragette movement.

  • Valley Village, CA

    A beautiful story about a Chinese young woman in Atlanta at the start of the Jim Crow era. This story was so much more than I was expecting. It deals with racism, identity and family so poignantly.

  • Des Moines, IA

    Jo is a treat and a character everyone should know! Love how Stacey Lee used history to show us people who have been here all along. I could relate to this book and "living between black and white."

  • Puyallup, WA

    The Downstairs Girl is delightful; I wish I'd read it sooner! Jo is a witty, spunky, inspiring MC. I love how this deals with intersectional feminism, racism, and classism. And the romance is cute!

  • Charlotte, NC

    I enjoyed this book in the beginning then it slowed down for me in the middle and then picked up at the end. I loved how different this story was though it was great to see another perspective.

  • Washington, IL

    I just loved this book! I felt myself drawn into the story and rooting for Jo - wanting her to succeed and cheering her on. Lee is a master with words and put her many talents into this one.

  • West Lafayette, IN

    It was a very sweet book that introduced me to an interesting slice of history. I do think middle school and hs students would enjoy it more since some things seemed too rosy for the times.

  • Villa Grove, IL

    It is always great to see a strong female character. She fought for what she believed in even if it wasnt social nor. I loved that you got to see her grow when she found out about her past

  • Boone, NC

    This book was such a beautiful piece of literature. I loved the setting and characters so much. The strong themes of race and love in this book were thought provoking and fantastic.

  • Austin, TX

    Some of the conflicts were resolved a little too easily, but other than that the book was good. Def a feel-good book for me. And gotta love that the MC and I have the same last name!

  • Lehi, UT

    I grew up in Atlanta Georgia and my dad is Chinese. This book was totally right up my alley. Things have definitely changed. The Book had so many great surprises. I loved it.

  • Anchorage, AK

    I loved this book! The writing style was awesome, I loved the twists and turns this book took, and I thought the ending was really sweet. I would highly recommend this book!

  • Long Beach, CA

    I enjoyed this book so much that I can’t wait to dive into her other novels. The word play was a delight. You can’t help but love Jo, as herself and as Miss Sweetie.

  • Deerfield, NH

    I'm in absolute love with this book! I love Jo. She was incredible. So brave, fierce, intelligent--ridiculously intelligent. She blew me away. Highly recommend this book!

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