Chinatown, Earthquakes, and Taking Care of Business: Stacey Lee’s OUTRUN THE MOON

BookendsLynn: In Outrun the Moon (2016), Stacey Lee takes readers to 1906 San Francisco, introducing a feisty heroine who won’t take no for an answer. 

Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong has big plans. Following the advice of a cherished business book, she plans to start her own import business and move her family out of Chinatown to Nob Hill.  The daughter of launderer and a fortune teller, Mercy is determined to attend an exclusive girl’s school and save her family—especially her fragile little brother—from the harsh conditions of working in a laundry. Faced with institutionalized oppression and active discrimination in the city, Mercy’s aims are high indeed.

Even her family has doubts. They’d like her to marry a handsome young neighbor and give up on the idea of school. Destiny, her mother says, “is like the moon. We can see it differently by climbing a mountain, but we cannot outrun it. As it should be.”

Outrun the Moon by Stacey LeeMercy gets into St. Clare’s School for Girls only to discover that acceptance was the easy part. But when the great earthquake hits, it is Mercy, her courage, and her organizational and leadership skills that save the surviving students.

Stacey Lee does a terrific job with this historical novel, providing a gripping account of the devastating earthquake and the conditions after it hits. She brings turn-of-the-century San Francisco and Chinatown to life, reflecting both its vibrancy and the deeply held discrimination its residents faced.  Quotes from Mercy’s business book mixed with Chinese sayings add moments of lightness.

But Mercy herself propels the story. She is a charming, multi-dimensional character, as easy to relate to as she is to cheer for. Don’t forget Lee’s understated message, which has never been more necessary: Look beneath the skin to the heart and soul beneath. That would benefit us all.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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