Title: Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
Release date: May 24th, 2016
Genre: Young Adult – Historical Fiction
San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty in Chinatown, and an education at St. Clare’s School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare’s is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong—until disaster strikes.
On April 18, a historic earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying Mercy’s home and school. With martial law in effect, she is forced to wait with her classmates for their families in a temporary park encampment. Though fires might rage, and the city may be in shambles, Mercy can’t sit by while they wait for the army to bring help—she still has the “bossy” cheeks that mark her as someone who gets things done. But what can one teenage girl do to heal so many suffering in her broken city?
For 1906, Mercy Wong is the epitome of the modern girl – educated, expressive, and fiercely independent in a way I don’t often see in historical fiction (aside from the oh-so-pleasant combination of stubbornness + pride that a lot of Victorian schoolgirls seem to mistake for independent thought). Most of her ambition for higher education stems from her constant companion, The Book for Business-Minded Women, which she repeatedly quotes from and finds a great deal of inspiration from (much to her father’s chagrin) in the hopes that Mrs. Lowry’s message coming from the mouth of a young Chinese girl will be enough to help her achieve recognition in a racist, classist, and sexist society. Or, y’know, just to get into that all-white girls’ school. THEN dismantle oppression through community engagement and business savvy.
In all seriousness, Outrun the Moon is a stunning book with sentiments about culture and tradition, as well as crucial statements regarding racism and prejudice, that we see echoing across America today. It’s a painful reminder that these oppressive systems continue to have a negative impact the lives of young women, especially women of color, in the modern world. Mercy is fighting the same fight in 1906 that adult women were fighting in 2016, and continue to combat today with movements like the Women’s March on Washington last weekend. Mercy’s family is one of millions that suffered because of the treatment they received as “inferior” citizens, and has suffered since then. I know this is really dark, but this country has been a dark place lately, and as much as I loved reading about Mercy’s personal growth and how she survived against all the odds, I am still angry and tired about having to fight the same odds over a hundred years later with no relief in sight. That is something that makes this book necessary reading, at the very least to put that fact in perspective in the minds of all the young adults picking this up this week and the next and the one after that.
Bringing the focus back down to the plot and movement of the story – wow, was this a moving read. I teared up at several spots because of the vulnerability and emotion that spoke volumes in only a few words. Outrun the Moon takes the audience far down into the well of tragedy, giving us a sorrowful yet compassionate glimpse of the aftermath of death and destruction in the wake of San Francisco’s great earthquake. The remaining girls from St. Clare’s along with Mercy experience the grief, shock, and hopelessness that follow a great tide of despair looking at a ruin around you, but with Mercy’s determination and drive, the group digs deeper past the need to survive and blossoms as a community full of generosity and hope. Mercy herself carries the book as a whole with her unwavering spirit and perseverance, and as the heart of the story, shows us what a grounded, human protagonist and a true heroine looks like.
Overall, this novel is a riveting tale that feels larger than the pinpoint of time it magnifies for us at just over 300 pages. The primary characters at St. Clare’s are genuine, three dimensional young women that support the story in just the right way, and Mercy’s life and relationships inside Chinatown round out the story to make a solid, realistic, and heartfelt historical retelling that would brighten any bookshelf. This may be my first novel from Stacey Lee, but it sure won’t be my last.
Have you read this book, or other books by Stacey Lee? What did you think? What other diverse books are you reading? Recommend me some titles in the comments below!