“Their deaths might leave a hole in our hearts as deep as the ocean, but it is only because we are as deep as the ocean, and our capacity to love is as high as the sky. The earthquake took much from us. But there is much we can take from it as well”
~Mercy, OUTRUN THE MOON
I'm not a huge historical fiction reader, but there was so much buzz about OUTRUN THE MOON by Stacey Lee earlier this year by people whose opinions I highly respect, so I decided to check it out. I'm so glad I did, because this book was almost impossible to put down, despite its shaky moments. It really gets your emotions going and makes you care--all while dropping you into another era and introducing you to another life
The book takes place in 1906, before, during, and immediately after the devastating San Francisco earthquake. Not only that, but it stars Mercy Wong, a girl from Chinatown trying to step up and reach the American Dream. She's smart, and wants to keep going to school, even though she's aged out of her local school. She wants to run a business. She's often shunned for not wanting to settle down and marry. Instead, she bribes her way into a private girls boarding school--but only if she promises to maintain the disguise of a Chinese heiress, so as not to annoy any of the school's rich patrons. When the earthquake strikes, Mercy must discover where she belongs, who is important to her, and whether or not she can truly exist in both worlds.
This book focuses so much on the bonds that hold us all together. Its emphasis lies on family, on friendship, on connecting with other humans. It's also not a romance, which is very hard to find in YA these days, despite everyone's ever-elusive search for it! It has a little romance in it, but it's not a focus of the story and just an aside.
I really enjoyed Lee's writing style, from the descriptive prose, to the Chinese Proverbs, to the asides on daily life as a Chinese girl in 1906 San Francisco. There is so much racism running rampant, and while the book itself doesn't focus on racism, the way Mercy goes through life paints the picture of everything she must deal with in a way that felt immediate and real. It also evolves so much depending on when and where she is, and her identity is an intrinsic part of her that defines OUTRUN THE MOON in more nuanced ways.
I wasn't expecting two stories in one when I picked up this book, for it to be both a school story AND a survival story, or for the first story to take up such a large chunk of the book. However, it worked, and by seeing so much of Mercy's backstory, you really care for her and those around her by the time you get to the emotional backhalf of the book, which is when everything really shines.
While historical fiction isn't my preferred genre, this book stands out as being a Must Read, and I've already been telling all my historical fiction loving co-workers to pick it up immediately! I definitely want to read more by the very talented Lee, too, and am so excited that she actually came out with a new book LAST WEEK entitled THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE, which I need to pick up right away! I'll also have to get my hands on a copy of her debut, UNDER A PAINTED SKY, too, because this voice is one I want to keep reading!