Jo Kuan and her father figure Old Jin have gotten by pretty well, considering they are Chinese Americans in the deep South of 1890. Old Jin works as a horse caretaker for a local wealthy family, and Jo has a talent for millinery, so she is hopeful for an apprenticeship at the shop she works. However, she is abruptly fired one day due to her supposed overly-frank attitude with customers (“You make the customers uncomfortable”). Old Jin is able to get her a position as ladies maid to the daughter of the estate he works, and Jo doesn’t have much of a choice. She takes the position serving the catty, spoiled Caroline. But another opportunity opens that is much more up her alley. The local paper has been failing and hopes to add an opinion columnist to appeal more to female readers. Jo learns this eavesdropping, as her and Jin secretly live beneath the paper’s printshop. Joe begins anonymously dropping off her writing under the pseudonym “Miss Sweetie” and it seems that her “overly-frank” point of view lends her well to journalism. But she starts to take on more than she can juggle, risking discovery by the paper owners, danger to her family, and shaky ground with her employee. What would Miss Sweetie do?
This is my second historical fiction YA by Lee, having enjoyed Outrun the Moon a few years back. I love when writers share pockets of history we are not exposed to as much – and that is a wide stretch of time for the Chinese-American experience. The unique point-of-view of growing up Chinese in Jim Crow Atlanta is fascinating to read and lends a wonderful voice to the narrative. The plot has many elements that weave together well, and supporting characters are given much depth, rounding out a wonderful ensemble cast. I read this on audio, and it is narrated very well by Emily Woo Zeller.
Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction, especially with diverse protagonists and/or a southern setting.