Book Review : Outrun The Moon
By Stacey Lee
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? (Courtesy of goodreads.com)
Adult Point of View
It’s 1906, and the inhabitants of San Francisco have no idea how much the upcoming earthquake with shake their lives. But, they haven’t met Mercy Wong yet and her “bossy cheeks”. Everyone needs someone with bossy cheeks in their lives if they ever want to get anything done.
After ready Lee’s first novel, Under A Painted Sky, I felt like she had the makings of an author that I would enjoy reading even though the first book fell short of my hopes. In her second novel, Outrun The Moon, Lee has hit her stride. The story feels authentic, rather than contrived, and her characters are fleshed out. The plot moves along at a pretty good pace, and isn’t hinged solely on a romance – or multiple romances. In fact, Mercy is determined to make her way in the world by getting an education even though she deeply loves Tom. Mercy is the kind of role model that I like because she doesn’t shun love in her life, but recognizes that she is also capable of building herself.
I also love all the Chinese references from Mercy’s cultural upbringing by her parents though she is an American. She doesn’t shy away from her heritage in an effort to become accepted by her peers. Many laws were passed because of racial prejudice; and Mercy is aware of racial tension, but doesn’t allow it to define her. I like that the other girls don’t universally embrace Mercy once she gains admittance to the school. In fact, her nemesis, Elodie, transforms through several phases and will never truly love Mercy, but she is fleshed out as a real person rather than a stereotypical mean girl. One of my favorite secondary characters is Francesca because she cooks and reads voraciously.
Lee does a good job including many details of the time. The place setting is concrete, Nob Hill is where Elodie resides and all the Chinese are in Chinatown. Several parks were set up with tents as refugee camps, including the Golden Gate Park. There were even kitchens set up serving free meals, just like Mercy and the girls provide. The Valencia Hotel was a real place and was destroyed. At one point the girls see a clock stuck at 5:12 am, the time of the earthquake. And like after every disaster, both the best and the worst come out in people – like looting and setting aside prejudice and eating together. I like seeing accurate details. The author also includes disclaimers and a fact check in the back explaining why she changes some historical details.
I would definitely recommend this book! There are about 3 references to mistresses, but there are no unsettling details for a young teenager. There are a few moments of cursing, but it’s infrequent. Not every simile is original, but I can overlook those that are trite because overall Lee brings a new voice to historical fiction. I am also pleased to see this is a stand alone novel, though I would love to see Mercy Wong again – perhaps during the Great Depression.
I look forward to future books from Lee.
4 out of 5 stars
- the Mother
If you liked this one try Moon Over Manifest by ClareVanderpool and The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery, A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck and The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, a few of my favorites.