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‘The Downstairs Girl’ Book Review: A Stunning New Historical Fiction Novel

Book Review of The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee, a YA historical fiction novel.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of The Downstairs Girl from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Downstairs Girl Book Review


In this wonderfully crafted historical fiction, Jo Kuan is a Chinese American living in 1890 Atlanta. Unfortunately, the time period and setting don’t look too kindly on the Chinese. For example, Jo’s boss dismisses her from her hat shop job because of how she looks.

Meanwhile, she lives below a family of journalists with her adoptive father, Old Gin. (They are living in secret abolitionist quarters unknown to the family.)

With no other prospects, Jo finds work as a Lady’s maid for the temperamental Caroline who tortured her as a young girl.

By night, she begins clandestinely writing under the pseudonym Miss Sweetie for the newspaper family she watches lovingly from the shadows. She desires to help them gain more subscribers for the endangered newspaper.

In her column that begins to take Atlanta by storm, Jo makes controversial statements about race and gender. Of course, everyone wants to know who the real Miss Sweetie actually is. In the meantime, Jo also goes on a journey of self-discovery. Who are her parents? Why did they abandon her?

Overall Impression of The Downstairs Girl

The Downstairs Girl Book Cover

The Downstairs Girl is truly engrossing from start to finish with literary writing and excellent characterization. Everyone feels three dimensional and real.

Furthermore, Stacey Lee thoroughly researched the Gilded Age of the South and transported us to Atlanta with detail and authenticity. I honestly had no idea about Chinese Americans living in the 19th century South. It’s a fresh historical topic, and the novel captures the era with beauty and elegance.

As for the romance, it’s not exactly the focus. However, the love story still fills the pages with a heartfelt sweetness. The Downstairs Girl offers us a few old-fashioned romantic moments that are a nice touch to this lovely coming of age historical novel.

For example, I love how Lee incorporates disguises to further the friendship and then the feelings between Jo and the newspaper boy she watched for so long.

Stacey Lee thoroughly researched the Gilded Age of the South and transported us to Atlanta with detail and authenticity.

Overall, if you love historical fiction novels with brave heroines, superb notice to detail, and touches of old-fashioned romance, I strongly recommend this one. The Downstairs Girl is now ready for purchase.

Have you read The Downstairs Girl? Do you plan on reading it if you haven’t? Let me know your thoughts on this book in the comments!

five corsets

“The stuff that dreams are made of.”

four vintage hearts

“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My

feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me

to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

'The Downstairs Girl' Book Review: A Stunning New Historical Fiction Novel: PIN


By on September 6th, 2019

About Autumn Topping

In second grade, Autumn wrote her first story, “The Spinach Monster,” and hasn't stopped writing since. Intrigued by the tales her grandmother told of vampires, witches, and ghosts as a girl, she's always been drawn to the fantastic. Later, Autumn studied English and Creative Writing (continuing her love for classic literature and everything old-fashioned) and graduated with an MA in Children’s Literature and an MS in Library & Information Science from Simmons College. Currently, she co-runs this lovely site and works as a YA Librarian.

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1 thought on “‘The Downstairs Girl’ Book Review: A Stunning New Historical Fiction Novel”

  1. That cover is so beautiful! This book sounds interesting and unique, so I’m going to add it to my TBR list. Thanks for the review.


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