The Downstairs Girl book cover
The Downstairs Girl book cover

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

Hey, friends, while we’re all stuck in our basement avoiding COVID-19, why not read about a girl stuck in someone else’s basement because of racial prejudice?
That joke isn’t gonna age well, is it…

Actually, this book is really dynamic and fun. The plot, which might come across as serious and stagnant from the dust jacket, goes all over the place. In a good way. It’s a mystery, period drama, romance, action book, and sports book (does horse racing count?) all in one.

The tone, luckily, is consistent, and I think that’s what ties the whole book together. The story is told from Jo Kuan’s voice, which is achingly, youthfully quixotic (proud that I snuck that in) while still feeling wry and observant. She’s a vessel for social justice without becoming a caricature, which I think can be difficult balance to achieve. In sum, she’s a likeable character with a lot of depth.

This book is five stars, no doubt about it. I’d love for my daughter to read this book. But, remember when I said it was youthful? Kind of true. It’s a concept that could really hit home, but I think both the tone and background characters leave it feeling like a fun and impactful vignette. Nathan is lovely, like really, but his primary personality trait is “Jo’s dream beau”. Old Gin and the Payne women also have strong nuances, but they’re still underdeveloped as the book is so wholly centered on this teenage girl’s own perspective. But…it’s such a fun and well-developed perspective!

The Downstairs Girl definitely belongs on every teenager’s favorites shelf. (I mean, even the cover is outstanding). Put it on your to-read shelf as well…while you sit at home…quarantined. Yep, I guess I’ve committed to this joke. Just remember to crawl out of your basement eventually for some inspiration adventures, like Jo!