“Outrun the Moon” by Stacey Lee (2016)
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction
Page Length: 391 pages (hardcover edition)
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? (description from Goodreads)
Outrun The Moon is a historical fiction novel set in the early 1900s. Our main protagonist is Mercy Wong, an intelligent and sassy Chinese girl who wants to be businesswoman; she has a big future planned for herself. Mercy is often berated by her parents and other elders due to her outspoken nature, but her childhood friend Tom admires her fiery spirit. Mercy wants so much more out of life than what’s desired of her in her community and wants to provide for her family while be seen as an equal (gender equality).
Lee sets up the time period perfectly and doesn’t gloss over the blatant racism and discrimination that Chinese people in that era: the nasty slurs, dirty looks, forced to stay within the boundaries of Chinatown. It’s difficult to read , but it stays true to that period. The setting/landscape is done very well and I felt immersed in 1900s San Francisco (clothing, speech, current events). I also appreciated seeing it from a PoC’s perspective.
The novel paints a vivid and realistic depiction of a natural disaster. The fear of knowing whether loved ones are safe, the destruction to people’s homes and businesses, and how people act in times of trouble. Mercy and her friends strive to survive under difficult measures, but they manage to keep it together. It was nice to see all of the girls put their indifference aside to focus on a common goal for the grater good. It showed a strong sense of teamwork and that even in dark times that you can find light.
The overall character development was smooth and the main characters end up learning more about themselves and change for the better. Each person is shaped by different events and not everyone has a happy ending. Out of all of the qualities Mercy has, I truly admired her bravery; taking on the challenge to go to a girls school far away from home, and always speaking up for what she believes in.
Overall I highly recommend reading Outrun The Moon. It’s enriched in Chinese culture and I learned more about Chinatown at that era. Though some things were altered for creative license I enjoyed Mercy’s story and the history that is laced throughout the novel!
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