Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

After reviewing Under a Painted Sky, my favorite young adult novel from 2015, I requested the galley of Stacey Lee's second book from her publisher. Outrun the Moon exceeded my high expectations, from the heart-pounding runaway hot air balloon opening to the bittersweet chapters about the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906.

Mercy (Wong Mei-Si) is the most delightfully headstrong girl since Anne of Green Gables (1908). Mercy is neither an orphan nor a redhead, but she faces greater social stigma as a 16-year-old feminist in 1906 Chinatown. Although Mercy was born in San Francisco and speaks without an accent, white people treat her like a foreigner with racist disdain and hostile mistrust. She dreams of a better life for her sickly younger brother than toiling sixteen-hour days at their father's laundromat.

"Sometimes, when someone tells me I can't do something, it makes me want to do it more. Ma blames it on my bossy cheeks," says Mercy in Confession. 
Her fortune-teller mother supports her daughter's aspirations, "You cannot control the wind, but you can control the sails."

Present day Chinatown. Photo by my teenage daughter from our recent visit to San Francisco.

Author Stacey Lee
After reading a Book for Business-Minded Women by a Radcliffe-educated rancher, Mercy realizes that education is her ticket to success. Since the public schools in Chinatown don't go beyond elementary school, Mercy cons her way into the best boarding school in California by posing as a Chinese heiress. To her horror, she discovers that this elite Catholic school for white girls teaches Embroidery instead of Economics and discipline is extracted through the hard end of a ruler. Mercy's mock Chinese tea ceremony has to be one of the funniest scenes in YA fiction.

Mercy struggles to fit in until the big Earthquake of 1906 demolishes San Francisco and literally levels the playing field. Her pragmatic ingenuity and selfless bravery might save them all, but only if she can work with her arch nemesis, a popular Franco American girl with an agenda of her own. Like Under the Painted the Sky, there is a touch of romance, but the central relationships are friendships among girls from diverse backgrounds. Apparently, bad puns in the face of misfortune can overcome class barriers.

Photo of the Golden Gate Bridge and me by my daughter.
I read most of this 400-page novel in one day, alternating between laughter and tears. I could visualize the scenes from my recent visit to San Francisco with my daughter. The multi-cultural characters and historical details were beautifully rendered without overpowering the narrative. Although the earthquake scenes - including the deaths of loved ones - were upsetting, the content was innocent enough for all ages. My advanced-reader son, who was once obsessed with earthquakes, would have enjoyed this book in third grade. The literary style and complex themes would appeal to adults as well as to teens.

Outrun the Moon is an inspiring survival story which transcends race, gender and time.

Reviewer's Disclosure: I requested the galley from Putnam, Penguin in return for an honest review. Outrun the Moon will be released on May 24, 2016 in North America and in the UK. Author photo is Stacey's profile image on twitter. San Francisco photos are by my teenage daughter.

Mom Watch: Happy Mother's Day to my mom and to all moms reading this blog!

Click icon for more
book review blogs
@Barrie Summy


pattinase (abbott) said...

This is certainly a review that makes you want to go out and buy the book.

Lucy said...

It's always nice when something exceeds your expectations. Thanks for the review (I agree, it makes you want to go out and buy the book!).

Unknown said...

Ooh, this sounds like one I would enjoy. I've discovered I have a penchant for stories set in turn-of-the-century San Francisco. (And I'll be visiting this summer for the first time!)


Stacy said...

Your son would have enjoyed this in THIRD grade? My goodness, how advanced of a reader was he? :)

I like Mercy already. I will have to read this.

Sarah Laurence said...

Patti and Lucy, thanks! I’d love to hear your reaction. In enjoyed your reviews too.

Alyssa, it would be fun to read this book before or during your visit so you could retrace Mercy’s steps. I recognized a bunch of streets and landmarks, although the whole city was rebuilt after the earthquake and fire. The hotel we stayed in was one of the first building constructed after that. You’ll love San Francisco. Check out my San Francisco post for hotel and restaurant recommendations.

Stacy, my son was slow to read for his age, not mastering it until the end of first grade. Then he jumped from Harry Potter to adult fiction and nonfiction, mostly natural disaster books. It was hard to find age-appropriate books for his ability so I’m always on the lookout for novels like this one for other parents facing this challenge. Do let me know what you think of this book.

Barrie said...

You read this book in one day!? Wow! That says something! Interestingly, I, too, have a son who was a bit of a later reader. Actually, he refused to learn to read at first. And then when he decided to learn, he took off. (He was the same way with bike riding. :) ) Thank you for reviewing! This author certainly sounds up my alley.

Lyndi Lamont said...

I like historical fiction, so this book appeals to me. Thanks for the great review.

Cloudbuster said...

Wow. This sounds fantastic! What a great review. There are WAY too few YA novels out there that deal with Asian characters and this slice of American history. I'm intrigued. Thanks for reviewing.

A Cuban In London said...

I love that quote about the wind and the sails. Quite true. Great review. Thanks.

Greetings from London.

troutbirder said...

Where were these kind of books back in the day when I was team teaching 2 credit combo English/History classes in middle school largely through historical fiction? Oh well...

Amanda Summer said...

Reading a 400 page novel in one day? Wow - I'm impressed! But the topic of earthquakes and setting in San Francisco along with a sassy protag sound like they would keep me intrigued as well - thanks for another enlightening review!

Sarah Laurence said...

Barrie, thanks for hosting! Interesting to hear that your son was like mine on reading and biking. My son wants to bike cross-country after graduation. As a kid, I was also slow to read and spent years in elementary school Special ED Reading and Speech Therapy before jumping ahead of my classmates.

Amanda & Barrie, I read the first quarter while I was traveling and then finished the rest the day after I came home, so closer to 300 pages. Yes, it was that gripping and you’d both enjoy it.

Lyndi, Cloudburster and Troutbirder, thanks! I enjoyed your reviews too.

Troutbirder, you must have been a wonderful teacher and what a terrific middle school to offer a class combining English and History.

A Cuban in London, there were lots of good expressions, some of Chinese origin and others American or invented by the author.

thecuecard said...

The Asian perspective in this book and her other book interest me. Also my sister lives in San Fran so it's a great setting for a novel. Thanks for letting me know about Outrun the Moon.

Donna said...

This sounds like an excellent book! I'm going to add it to my list. Thanks for the good review.

Sarah Laurence said...

Cue & Donna, I'd love to hear your reactions to this fabulous book!