A review by hannahtiffany
The Downstairs Girl, by Stacey Lee


This is what the summative review for my ninth graders looks like. It has six parts to it and each part needs to be at least a paragraph. The six parts are; the characters, the plot, the writing style/language, the theme of social justice, a comparison and contrast of To Kill A Mockingbird, and a connection to the real world.

The Characters

When I first started the book I was not invested in the characters, but about halfway through I got emotionally involved. I loved Merritt and Nathan; these two boys were incredibly different, but I fell for both. Jo is a fantastic main character. She is witty and intelligent. I admired her courage, and I loved seeing how her relationship with Caroline developed. Old Gin was Jo's mentor and did not elicit any emotional reactions from me. I felt for Jo but I personally was unaffected by Old Gin. He is a great mentor, but as a person I was very neutral towards him. I loved Caroline, she was a brat but I always got a laugh out of her. She had a nice character development arc as well. I thought a character that could have been used more was Billy Riggs. I got hints of Magnus Bane from him and I wanted more. The scene that made me think the most of Magnus, besides the bath scene, was "I finally spot Billy Riggs near the center, blocking the view behind him with a garish plum-colored top hat to match his suit. Our gazes connect, and he stands, sweeps off the top hat, and gives me one of his mocking bows" (Lee 354). I want a whole book about Billy Riggs. He was fascinating.

The Plot

The plot started out slow but boy did it pick up. Starting around the middle of the book is when things got exciting "Our gaze connects. If looks were sounds, his startled expression would be the braking of a train for a troop of Figi mermaids swinging through the trees. His gaze falls to my mouth, maybe measuring it against the last peek. A rosy indignation blooms around my neck" (Lee 197). Nathan meeting Jo was part of this pick up, but so was Billy Riggs and Jo's encounter with him. I was honestly in shock by how good the book got. It started out as a three star read for me but turned into a five star read because of how the plot twisted and changed in the second half of the book. I really loved that the plot showed a Chinese-American during the late 1800s. This is something I had not seen done before and the change was nice. The plot also brought me back to when I obsessively read horse books because of the plot line with Sweet Potato.

Writing Style/Language

The writing style of this book was very simple and easy to read. The chapters were short. The language of the book was accessible but there was still vocabulary that would be on the higher end for high schoolers. There is no dialect in this book even though it is set in the south during the late 1800s. I was beyond grateful for this because I do not care for heavy dialect in my books. It was one of my least favorite things of To Kill A Mockingbird and The Color Purple. The dialogue felt real and the humor in the characters' dialogue was wonderfully done. I really appreciated how this book was written; it was a good book without being too difficult. That is what I needed at this point in time.

The Theme of Social Justice

Oh goodness was this book packed full of social justice themes. It was teaming with them. There was the social justice theme of women's rights, racism against blacks. racism against the Chines, discrimination based on social class, and discrimination based on jobs. All of these issues were also multi-faceted in the book. If you are looking for a book that deals with social justice, then this is the book for you. Jo is right in the middle of many of these social justice situations and she handles them all with grace. Her character can easily be seen with these various social justice themes.

Compare and Contrast of To Kill A Mockingbird

I will say this right away; I loved this way more than To Kill A Mockingbird. To Kill A Mockingbird was very meh for me but this book I actually grew to love and became invested in the characters. To Kill A Mockingbird mostly dealt with racism but The Downstairs Girl deals with multiple social justice themes. I found the character of Jo far more enjoyable and relatable than the character of Scout. Jo is less harsh than Scout and she is older so I was able to actually feel more for Jo and understand her perspective more. I think that The Downstairs Girl has a better plot than To Kill A Mockingbird because it is more exciting and is not as slow. Boo Radley was the best part for To Kill A Mockingbird but The Downstairs Girl had interesting parts throughout most of it. I would recommend The Downstairs Girl but I would only recommend To Kill A Mockingbird if you feel obligated to read a classic.

Connection To The Real World

My connection to the real world for this book is Jo's and Old Gin's relationship. I am very close to my father, just like Jo is very close to Old Gin, her adoptive father. My father has taught me many important life lessons, just like Old Gin has taught Jo. I believe that this relationship makes Jo far more relatable for me and I can understand her character motivations. I would do anything for my father, just like Jo will do anything for Old Gin. Jo says Old Gin is the most important person to her and the most important person to me is my father.