Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
Published: May 2016
Genre: young adult, historical fiction
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?
Mercy Wong is eager to make something of herself and help her family out of Chinatown. In order to do so, she needs to attend St Clare’s School for Girls. Getting into the school is the first of many hurdles, and Mercy is nearly unprepared for what’s in store within the school’s walls. But when a disastrous earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying the city and setting it alight, Mercy and the other girls do their best to set up a temporary encampment at a nearby park and make the most of what they have. Mercy can’t sit by and watch the world burn — but what can she do to help ease the pain of her crumbling home?
Once again, Stacey Lee steals my heart and shares another important story. Important in American history, important in Chinese-American culture, just all around important. She delivers it with such artistry and storytelling mastery. I’m blown away.
Mercy is one fierce, independent, determined young woman. She wants to make something of herself so that she could also assist her family and help them out of poverty. The Wongs, like most Chinese-American families in Chinatown, would otherwise face the inevitable cycle of poverty just because of their race and location of their home. Mercy consults a businesswoman’s book to help her navigate the “white ghost” language, social structure, and business in a fair and structured way. No one could lawfully question her otherwise if she’s playing by their rules. But in order to do so, she needs to attend an all-white, very prosperous, all-girls school. The struggle is real, folks.
Race is a common theme throughout the novel, and one that is demonstrated without pushing an agenda. This is how things were then — and it’s painful and honest and difficult to take in — and likely how things are still now. We can learn from our history, and Lee does an excellent job of saying such by showing us the conflicts, triggering the reader’s emotions and reactions. I, for one, wanted to punch the living daylights out of so many white characters; meanwhile, Mercy held her ground with strength and poise. I admired her.
To end on a light note, I was touched by the affection between Mercy and Tom, another Chinese-American boy with aspirations to fly. They love one another, you can feel it in their interactions, and they set out for their goals with the other in mind to share in the dreams and success. Though this isn’t a romance per se, it’s beautiful.
This book is about Mercy’s journey to achieve her dreams while fighting through adversity, and experiencing this journey with a close group of schoolgirls in the middle of a very traumatic moment in history. Open it and take the journey in another’s shoes. Find compassion. Be inspired.
This qualifies as book 6 of 12 in the Rock My TBR challenge.