The Downstairs Girl

The Downstairs Girl

Series: Historical Fiction

Set in gilded age Atlanta, this is about seventeen-year old Jo who works as a lady’s maid for the grumpy, privileged daughter of the house. Meanwhile she lives with her adopted grandfather figure in a secret basement under the print shop of a family newspaper. This is a relic from the underground railroad and the family above does not know that it’s there. Jo eavesdrops on them through the vent and knows, because she can listen in, that the paper is not doing well financially. They need to boost circulation if they’re going to stay in business. She has the idea that will let her vent her 17-year old feelings on the world and also maybe get some new subscribers for this magazine: Jo decides she’s going to write a column called Dear Miss Sweetie, anonymously, answering questions and addressing contemporary topics affecting both women and people of color in Atlanta in the 1890s. Jo is sassy and snarky and smart, and so pretty soon the talk of the town among the fussy Atlanta society ladies is "who is this brilliant young girl writing a funny column?"

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About the Book

From the critically-acclaimed author of Under a Painted Sky and Outrun the Moon and founding member of We Need Diverse Books comes a powerful novel about identity, betrayal, and the meaning of family.

“This vividly rendered historic novel will keep readers riveted as witty, observant Jo deals with the dangers of questioning power.” —The Washington Post

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. With prose that is witty, insightful, and at times heartbreaking, Stacey Lee masterfully crafts an extraordinary social drama set in the New South.

“Holds a mirror to our present issues while giving us a detailed and vibrant picture of life in the past.” —The New York Times

“A joyful read . . . The Downstairs Girl, for all its serious and timely content, is a jolly good time.” —NPR

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