The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
By day, Jo is a maid to the spoiled daughter of the wealthiest man in Atlanta. By night, she’s agony aunt Miss Sweetie—viciously spearing down racists, misogynists and white feminists with the power of her pen.
This is probably one of my favorite books of 2019 (fuck I read so many great books this year).
This is historical fiction, mystery and feminist/equal rights rallying point all in one, while highlighting the racist and segregationist history of Reconstruction Atlanta.
I never knew that Chinese workers were carted into the South in droves to replace the slaves after the Civil War. Or that the same workers basically said “fuck you” to their white overlords and tried to go their own way…while still experiencing horrific discrimination from white people.
Stacey Lee does not shy away from the horrific bits in history, but uses them to highlight how things were and how people of color endured—and sometimes thrived—in spite of the disadvantages and systematic discrimination they faced.
However, this book isn’t all about gloom and doom.
There’s Jo, who is just a sharp-witted delight and wickedly talented in so many ways.
Despite living with Old Gin (OMG THE BEST PARENT EVER!!!!!!!), she wants to know her parentage. Who abandoned her as a baby so many years ago? Did they not love her? Were they happy? Were they still alive? And is Old Gin okay?
And the printing press and the Bells and Jo and Old Gin’s hiding place in their basement. The power of words and knowledge, and the ways that strangers can have an impact and be interconnected with your lives without you ever even knowing. I loved that Jo knew the power of language, and that she was fearless in her attempt to do right—by herself, by her friends and by the people of Atlanta—while finding her place and where she fit in to a society that was starkly divided into Black and white.
I did like that the white suffragettes were put in their place hard, since they were fucking racist asshats. “It’s our time now,” indeed. Fuck those women.
Anywho, off my high horse.
This is a terrible review, but an awesome book. It’s punny (groan-worthy puns), historical, and has horse racing, freedom bicycles, ruffians, a diverse cast, a Very Large, Fluffy Dog named Bear, and great friends (and very complicated friendships!).
Definitely a must-read if you’re interested at all in the Gilded Age South—and what it was like for the people who weren’t wealthy white landowners.