This week I am reading The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee. It’s about a Chinese-American girl living in antebellum Atlanta, which is a precarious thing to be in all ways. She lives in secret underneath a newspaper office and discovers that they need an advice columnist, so she starts sending them columns anonymously and they print them, to great popular success. But her life is complicated and rarely what she wants it to be.
This book is absolutely fascinating. Not only is it a view of a piece of history that most people don’t even know existed (Asian-Americans in the deep south after the Civil War), but also gives a voice to a woman who in every way wasn’t supposed to have one. And not only is it giving her a voice to the reader, but through her columns she is able to exert influence on her society when they don’t even want to admit that she exists. It’s an amazingly powerful idea and Lee does a beautiful job of weaving the complexities together.
I was drawn to this book because of the unusual protagonist and because I love old advice columns. They are often fascinating and show such an interesting glimpse of the world they came out of – sometimes reinforcing it and sometimes pushing it to new places. I’m not quite half way through this one, but I’m enjoying it imensely and looking forward very much to seeing where it goes and what happens to the intriguing heroine!