The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

The Downstairs

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
English | 2019 | Young Adult | ePUB | 2.5 Mb

The Downstairs : By day, seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan works as a lady’s maid for the cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta. But by night, Jo moonlights as the pseudonymous author of a newspaper advice column for the genteel Southern lady, “Dear Miss Sweetie.” When her column becomes wildly popular, she uses the power of the pen to address some of society’s ills, but she’s not prepared for the backlash that follows when her column challenges fixed ideas about race and gender. While her opponents clamor to uncover the secret identity of Miss Sweetie, a mysterious letter sets Jo off on a search for her own past and the parents who abandoned her as a baby. But when her efforts put her in the crosshairs of Atlanta’s most notorious criminal, Jo must decide whether she, a girl used to living in the shadows, is ready to step into the light. With prose that is witty, insightful, and at times heartbreaking, Stacey Lee masterfully crafts an extraordinary social drama set in the New South.

“The woman sighs, something she does often. Her great bosom has a personality of its own, at times riding high, and at times twitchy and nervous, like when the mayor’s wife pays a visit. Today’s gusting tests the iron grip of her corset. Her rheumy eyes squint up at me towering over her. “You make some of the ladies uncomfortable.”

Each of the syllables slaps me on the cheeks, un-com-for-ta-ble, and mortification pours like molten iron from my face to my toes. But I’m good at my job. The solicitor’s wife even called the silk knots I tied for her bonnet “extraordinary.” So what about me causes such offense? I wash regularly with soap, even the parts that don’t show. I keep my black hair neatly braided and routinely scrub my teeth with a licorice root, thanks to Robby. I’m not sluggish like Lizzie or overbearing like Mrs. English. In fact, I’m the least offensive member of our crew.

“It’s because I’m . . .” My hand flies to my cheek, dusky and smooth as the Asian steppes.

“I know you can’t help it. It’s the lot you drew.” She matches her round eyes with mine, which are just as round, but taper at the outside corners. “But it’s not just that. You’re . . . a saucebox.” She squints at my cap, and I regret calling it a toadstool. “You don’t know when to keep your opinions to yourself.”

She draws back her head, causing her neck to bunch. “Women want to be complimented. They do not want to be told they look washed-out, square in the jaw, or pie-faced.”

“Jo, I will no longer be requiring your services.”

“I—” I clamp my mouth shut when her words catch up to me. No longer required . . . I’m . . . dismissed?

“I only need one shopgirl, and Lizzie will do.”

Lizzie draws in a sharp breath. Her normally sleepy eyes open wide enough to catch gnats.

“Lizzie, open the packages. I hope the new boater block’s in one of them.” Mrs. English wiggles her fingers.

“Yes, ma’am.” Drawers clatter as Lizzie rummages for a knife.

“B-but—” I turn my back on Lizzie and lower my pipes to a whisper. “Mrs. English, I trained her. I can felt a block twice as fast as her, I’m never late, and you said I have an eye for color.” I can’t lose this job. It took me almost two years to find steady work after my last dismissal, and Old Gin’s meager wage as a groom isn’t enough to sustain us both. We’d be back to living hand to mouth, tiptoeing on the edges of disaster. A bubble of hysteria works up my chest, but I slowly breathe it out.

At least we have a home. It’s dry, warm, and rent-free, one of the perks of living secretly in someone else’s basement. As long as you have a home, you have a place to plan and dream.”


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