“No, the key to wealth was opportunity. And if opportunity didn’t come knocking than Mrs. Lowry says you must build your own door.”
Outrun The Moon is author Stacey Lee’s second book, and it is just as stunning and well-researched as her debut, Under a Painted Sky (which I reviewed here).
Set in San Francisco in 1906, Outrun the Moon details the journey of Mercy Wong, a fifteen-year-old girl living in Chinatown. Mercy is a US citizen, although her parents are not, and her family and friends live and thrive within the confines of Chinatown’s industry. Mercy’s father is a launderer, and her mother is a well-respected fortune teller. Mercy also lives with her younger brother, Jack, whose weak lungs keep him from running and playing as other children might. Aided by the medicine of their neighbor, Ah-Suk, Jack’s health remains in check.
Mercy is smitten with her longtime friend, Tom. Tom is Ah-Suk’s son and is expected to take over the family trade. However, Tom has dreams of flying, and he has even crafted a hot air balloon. Similarly, Mercy has dreams that would take her outside of Chinatown: she wants to run a successful business.
Mercy is an intelligent narrator who, despite her modern ways of thinking when it comes to business and the role of the female, deeply respects her upbringing and Chinese traditions. She has a dislike of the unlucky number four, and she frequently uses her mother’s body-mapping techniques to discern qualities in individuals. For example, Mercy’s high cheekbones (sometimes referred to as “bossy cheeks”) denote an assertive nature. I found this mixture of modern thinking and respect for tradition to be incredibly refreshing and interesting to read. Mercy is also witty and quick to act, and I would happily read another book narrated by her.
Mercy Wong knows that she needs to further her education if she wants to make a name for herself in the business world, and so she strikes a deal with the wealthy Du Lac family. Chocolatiers by trade, Mr. Du Lac also serves on the board of St. Clare’s School for Girls, one of the most exclusive private schools. An elaborate ruse is concocted, and Mercy is granted a trial period at the school where she must pretend she is a Chinese heiress.
Being the first non-white person at the school, Mercy garners a lot of attention – not all of it favorable. Soon after settling in, however, disaster strikes: the historic earthquake of April 18, 1906 sends San Francisco into turmoil, and the girls of St. Clare’s have to put aside their differences to survive.
Outrun the Moon features a cast of unique and likable characters, each with their own flaws and inner battles. From enemies, to friends, to grumpy headmistresses, Mercy deals with them all. Reduced to living in a park together after the earthquake, the girls’ true natures come to light.
Although Lee takes some liberties with historical accuracy (she changes the time that the earthquake hit Chinatown, among a few other things that she mentions in an author’s note), I found Outrun the Moon to be a wonderful glimpse into a time period and a culture that I am not entirely familiar with. The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 was a history lesson reduced to one class when I was in school, and I never stopped to think about the myriad of ways that people were affected and what this tragedy meant to the city. Between this book and Under a Painted Sky, Lee has single-handedly made me want to research periods in history to learn more. Anyone who can do that outside of a classroom is doing something right!
I want to thank Stacey Lee for providing me with an advanced copy of Outrun The Moon in exchange for an honest review. The book was released in May by GP Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, and I cannot recommend it enough. Go – read – and fall in love with a time and a place.