{Review} OUTRUN THE MOON by Stacey Lee

O P E N I N G   H O O K:

  IN MY FIFTEEN YEARS, I HAVE stuck my arm in a vat of slithering eels, climbed all the major hills of San Francisco, and tiptoed over the graves of a hundred souls. Today, I will walk on air.
  Tom's hot air balloon, the Floating Island, hovers above us, a cloud of tofu-colored silk trapped in netting. After scores of solo flights, Tom finally deemed it safe enough to bring me aboard. I run my hands over the inner wall of the bamboo basket, which strains at the stakes pinning it to the ground. Both the balloon and I are itching to take off.

(page 1, US hardcover edition)

“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”

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!

Content Ratings: highlight between ( ) for details

Romance: PG ( kissing )
Language:  G ( racial slurs )
Violence: G ( some racial violence and innuendo against women by soldiers after the earthquake; some characters die during the earthquake )
Other:  G ( emotional about character deaths during the earthquake  )
C O V E R   D E S I G N: 


I love how dark the colors are, promising something sad and emotional. I love the shattered  glass. I love those forbidding clouds. This cover tells you that something is wrong, that things won't be okay, and it's really striking!
O F F I C I A   I N F O:

Author: Stacey Lee
Release Date: May 24, 2016
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers // Penguin
Received: Gifted

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?
Soon, Lily and her anonymous pen pal are exchanging full-on letters—sharing secrets, recommending bands, and opening up to each other. Lily realizes she’s kind of falling for this letter writer. Only, who is he? As Lily attempts to unravel the mystery and juggle school, friends, crushes, and her crazy family, she discovers that matters of the heart can’t always be spelled out…