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  • Writer's pictureBrandi Prater

The Downstairs Girl

Updated: Nov 2, 2022


Lee, S. (2021). The Downstairs Girl. G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9781524740979


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.


This is a social drama that illuminates the experiences of being Chinese in the Reconstruction South. Through Jo’s personal story and the voice of “Dear Miss Sweetie,” this novel raises powerful questions about the women’s right to vote; the hypocrisy of an elite society; interracial romance; the restrictions on women and people of color while addressing the numerous forms of prejudice during this time.

With language that is witty and insightful and the addition of memorable well-developed characters, this novel lets readers hear the voices of those seen as different. Although heartbreaking at times, the story is ultimately hopeful and heartfelt. This is a YA novel, but can be read and loved by adults. I would recommend it for any collection.


Jo Kuan leads a double life: a public role as a quiet lady’s maid and a secret one as the voice behind the hottest advice column in 1890 Atlanta. Chinese American Jo is mostly invisible except for occasional looks of disdain and derisive comments, and she doesn’t mind: Her priority is making sure she and her adoptive father, Chinese immigrant Old Gin, remain safe in their abandoned abolitionists’ hideaway beneath a print shop. But even if she lives on the margins, Jo has opinions of her own which she shares in her newspaper advice column under the byline “Miss Sweetie.” Suddenly all of Atlanta is talking about her ideas, though they don’t know that the witty advice on relationships, millinery, and horse races comes from a Chinese girl. As curiosity about Miss Sweetie mounts, Jo may not be able to stay hidden much longer. And as she learns more about the blurred lines and the hard truths about race in her city and her own past, maybe she doesn’t want to.

Kirkus Reviews starred (June 1, 2019)


· TAYSHAS Reading List, 2020

· Booklist, Starred, 2019

· Publishers Weekly, Starred, 2019

· School Library Journal, Starred, 2019

· Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA), 2019


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