Putnum, August, 2019 369 pages
Seventeen year-old Jo Kuan has a secret. Unbeknownst to the good people of 1890's Atlanta, Jo and her segregate father, Old Jin, have been living in the basement of a local newspaper owner's house. Her whole life, Jo has ease-dropped on the family living above, wondering what it would be like to be a part of them. Chinese people in the south are not allowed to rent or own dwellings and live in a grey space between the privileged white folks and grossly discriminated against black folks. When Jo is fired from her job at a hat shop for being Chinese, she returns to the home for which Old Jin is a stable-hand and agrees to serve as a personal maid to her former playmate. The spoiled former friend, though disagreeable in nature, accidentally discloses secrets to Jo, resulting in an uncomfortable truce. Meanwhile, Jo anonymously begins to write an agony-aunt column for the paper belonging to her upstairs neighbors, which begins to trend. As segregation sweeps through the city and Jo, as well as some of her friends, are the target for ridicule and rudeness, she gets involved with the suffragettes, though they do not consider ladies of color to be of consequence to vote, even if the law is changed. As Jo navigates her tricky existence, secrets are revealed with dire consequences. Jo discovers family she never knew she had and decides to risk it all in order to hold onto those she loves.
Lee offers a well research novel featuring an often overlooked period in American History: The Gilded Age in the American south. The Civil War is over, Reconstruction is settling down, and the American government is back to allowing southern white folks to put anyone with African American blood in their place. But how about the Chinese? Southerners are not sure what to do about this group brought in to take over the work left by slaves and now no longer wanted. Readers will learn about the suffragette movement in the south, as well as how prejudice split it apart by race. This book has an interesting plot with plenty of twists and turns. Jo discovers the secret behind her parentage and must delve into her inner strength in order to protect her loved ones. Family secrets are revealed and character's motivations are disclosed. The action builds up to a thrilling conclusion that will have readers on the edge of their seats. There is a gentle romance that remains within acceptable boundaries for middle school. The enticing cover will draw in readers and the story will hold their interest. An interesting tale with a lot to say highlighting a piece of America's past which is less than glowing, yet still has relevance today.