• The Downstairs Girl

  • By: Stacey Lee
  • Narrated by: Emily Woo Zeller
  • Length: 10 hrs and 22 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (883 ratings)

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The Downstairs Girl  By  cover art

The Downstairs Girl

By: Stacey Lee
Narrated by: Emily Woo Zeller
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Publisher's Summary

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.

By day, 17-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.

©2019 Stacey Lee (P)2019 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"Spectacular." (Booklist starred review)

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What listeners say about The Downstairs Girl

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

inaccurate historic details

The story is somewhat interesting, but the depictions of horses' behavior, horseback riding, and various historical details are pure fabrication. I found those details were very distracting as I listened to the story. The plot is good, with some unexpected twists, but it would have been a much better book if an equine-savvy editor had looked it over first.

9 people found this helpful

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  • TM
  • 05-14-22

Mixed feelings. If you’re from the South, probably pass

I have mixed feelings about this book. Initially, it was hard to get through. At around chapter 7, I was going to quit because it was so cringey listening to the forced southern accent and stereotyped phrases. I was born and raised in the south, and even for the time period it was set in, it’s clear that the writer is not from the south and doesn’t know much about it other than stereotypes. I kept wondering why they couldn’t get a real southern narrator instead of someone who was trying to affect a southern accent. It was hard to read the reviews of praise for the narrator when it was such a poor attempt at a southern accent, but it’s probably because for those who don’t know, don’t know. It reminded me of Terrance Howard and his infamous attempt at a Memphis accent. Further, the phrases and speech were simply filled with the stereotypes of southern affectations and not truly how people speak in the south.
However, as an Asian American, (half white and half Asian) born and raised in the South, with lack of representation and mirrors, I believe it’s important for this book to exist. I grew up looking through windows and never mirrors, so it’s nice to see a book that will provide a mirror for those like me. The ending was nice, and the representation important.
The most difficult thing for me was the fake southern accent and stereotypes, and the very unrealistic portrayal. Considering the time period, considering gender and race, it’s just implausible for some of the situations and difficult to not be distracted by how unrealistic some of it was. I had to remind myself that this is a YA read, and that it was fiction. It makes me think of how Bridgerton is a wonderful fictional remake of history to represent people of color. So when I look at it through that lens, I can appreciate it. However, getting through it was hard until the end where I was able to put that lens on and appreciate it. It’s just too much of a stretch for a young asian American girl to have been in certain situations and say things and act as the protagonist did (hard to explain without giving spoilers). So, if you’re from the south like me, you’ll probably cringe a lot and have a hard time getting through it. However, for representation and providing children with a healthy selection of culturally rounded literature, it’s a nice addition. It’s just not an accurate portrayal of the south or southern living, simply an imagined setting that someone created which makes sense as the author is from California.

8 people found this helpful

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Enjoyed

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this book. I loved all the sayings. The underdog came out like a Champ.

3 people found this helpful

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Overflowing With Things to Ponder

Truly a wonderful story. Narration perfect but I am ordering a print copy so I can go back through and highlight and steal the most wonderful literary devices I have ever heard. A unique story (for me) not because it's set in the South but from the perspective of a Chinese American girl at the end of the 19th century. The cast of characters is diverse and Jo struggles with racism, sexism, and painful rejection but joy perseveres. Going to have to check out what I have been missing from Stacey Lee.

3 people found this helpful

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Fantastic

I loved everything about this book.
The characters, the story and the narration were so well done. Thanks to Reece's book recommendations I found this gem

2 people found this helpful

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Beautiful

Beautiful writing and brilliant narrating. The story really highlights another aspect of oppression that not many will think about. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Would definitely recommend.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Ty
  • 01-14-22

Giddy Goobers!

This book is amazing. I loved the narrator’s voices as well as every second of this story! I fell in love with the characters and the story carried me along weaving me through Jo’s life. I was sad it was over when it ended. It was so good. Read it - you’ll be so glad you did!! (And you’ll understand why I titled this review Giddy Goobers once you read it!)

1 person found this helpful

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Touching Story

I felt like I really got to know the characters. This is an honest and sometimes sad look a moment in our country's history when not everyone was treated equally. The story is nicely researched and put together.

1 person found this helpful

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Resilience, love, kindness win the day

Jo is a very likable, admirable Chinese teen orphan living in Atlanta during Reconstruction, who along with Old Jin is eking out the life that is available to them at that time in this country. Old Jin's wisdom and love for Jo have helped make her who she is and who she will be, While finding ways to do more and be more, she uses her sharp wit and self-confidence to make life better for them both. They endure racism and poor treatment and in the end Jo learns about her family and the ways racism was a part of them and effected them.

1 person found this helpful

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Exceptionally written!

This is a book I couldn’t put down. So many emotions stirred in me. Having a Korean adopted daughter, myself, it made the cultural issues heartbreaking. Yet, because of the perseverance and personality of Jo in the story, each victory she had you wanted to jump up and celebrate with her. There were surprises and twists in the storyline along the way; making for a most interesting read!

1 person found this helpful