Finished The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee.
Summary (from Goodreads):
“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.”
Stacey Lee has become one of my favorite authors. This book (another of her historical fiction novels) cements that status.
I love Jo and the way that she is determined to find a better life for herself and Old Gin, but Atlanta society is for sure just as certain that there’s no better life for her. (She’s a woman and Chinese, and they do not have time for either of those things.)
This is an incredibly fun story, but it’s also bittersweet. It hasn’t been that long, really, since women weren’t allowed to vote or to do much of anything besides get married and have kids. And it didn’t matter how smart you were or what you wanted to do, that’s what your life would be. It’s easy for the reader to see just how that viewpoint stifled many of the characters.
The Miss Sweetie subplot was my favorite, but it’s not as big a part of the story as the synopsis would have you believe. (But that’s OK, because this book is a complete delight all on its own.)