“The Downstairs Girl” by Stacey Lee BOOK REVIEW

The Downstairs Girl

Publication Date: August, 13th 2019

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

ISBN: 9781524740979

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult

Strong Point: The story is very sweet as well as very interesting. To get to know a bit about the lives of Asian immigrants in the States in 1890 is perhaps the best part of the book.   

Weak Point: Any!

Books on Tour Rating: Books on Tour LogoBooks on Tour LogoBooks on Tour LogoBooks on Tour Logo(5/5)

Goodreads Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (4.48/5)

Read book blurb here

“Millinery gave me a way to be seen; Miss Sweetie gave me a voice to be heard. (…) If I hadn’t used my voice, I wouldn’t be here today”.  


I don’t normally read YA books. But when Elizabeth, the Youtuber Plant Based Bride (@elizabethturn), recommended this book, it made me want to read it. 

And I cannot be happier that I did.

Let’s get to it!


“The Downstairs Girl” takes place in Atlanta, in the year 1890. 

It tells the story of Jo, a 17-years-old girl who works as a milliner’s assistant.

The book starts when Jo is fired by her boss, Mrs. English, because she makes customers “uncomfortable”.

Jo lives in a basement with Old Gin who has been taking care of her since she was a baby and her parents handed her to him. 

They live in a basement but hidden. That is: the house is owned by the Bell family, who runs also a printing house from there. They don’t know they have people living hidden in their basement.

Jo and Old Gin hide there because as Asians, they are not allowed to own a house. Furthermore, no one would rent them a place to live. That’s the reason for the name of the book. “The Downstairs Girl” is, in fact, Joe.


Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the book is when the author narrates the situation of Chinese people in the States at that time.

I did not know anything about the harsh conditions they suffered and how much they were silenced and ignored, apart from the racism they experienced. They were considered even lower than black people in the “scale” of racism. which is already too much down. 

All this makes me think about the few couple past years, when the pandemic hit. People started blaming the Chinese population, and they were getting harassed and bullied by just being Asian. 

So it is always a good idea to learn as much history as we can so that we do not repeat awful, past behaviour.   


“The Downstairs Girl” is a book where almost all characters which appear in it are likeable. I say “almost” because, of course, there are a couple of “villains” who are despicable (Caroline, I am talking to you!!!!). But overall, the characters are very enjoyable and we can see a big character development on most of them.

This is especially true for Joe, because as we read, she learns about her own history, and who her real family are, because sometimes they don’t have to be “blood” related to you at all. 

Lee’s style is impecable as well as elegant. When one reads, it does not seem at all she is telling the story to younger people, but to adults.

The story is very well-developed, very interesting until the end, which is also brilliant (the horse race is the perfect climax). Even the so-called “love-story” is very cute and sweet, but not too much.


Lee gives Jo her own voice in the shape of a quite witty column written by “Miss Sweetie”.

In it, Jo gives advice to other women in small pieces of writ, where we can read small “hints” of feminism.

In addition, she also tackles other big problems like segregation in public transportation, which had just started at the time the book takes place. 

She also talks about the emerging women’s suffrage movement. They are starting to ask for women’s votes, although not for all women, it seems. However, the portrait Lee paints of them does not come out well, though, as they are also quite racist…

It is through this type of “alter ego” called “Miss Sweetie” that Jo finds her own voice, her own place in a world which has treated and still treats her and her family very poorly. With her defiance, Jo has developed her own self and has changed her world and those around her for the better.


The best compliment I can give to a book is that I did not want to finish it.

I wanted to continue spending time with Jo, Old Gin and Nathan, to know more about their lives. I would love to continue reading Miss Sweetie’s column…

Furthermore, the story as well as the characters are perfect and very uplifting. In addition to it, we learn a bit of history about the Asian people in the the States: Asians cannot own house, they cannot impersonate white people, they cannot marry whites, etc. etc.

So if you want to get a warm hug in the shape of a book, please read “The Downstairs Girl”.

You’re welcome.