Review: Outrun the Moon

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  • Release Date: May 24th, 2016
  • Author: Stacey Lee
  • Website: http://www.staceyhlee.com/
  • ISBN: 9780399175411

Review:

San Francisco, 1906. On the eve of one of the most devastating natural disasters in American history, racism against Chinese immigrants is at an all-time peak. Strict, prejudicial laws work to keep the city’s non-white citizens in drudgery even as they work harder and harder to break out of poverty and segregation. A bold teenager named Mercy Wong hatches a daring plan to earn a place in a prestigious school for girls — a school for white girls. Despite the odds, her plan works, but her success is soon overshadowed by the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Now Mercy may be the only one who can help the people who revile her the most.

I’m not usually drawn to historical fiction, but Stacey Lee brings the turn-of-the-century city to life. You can feel the hot California sun on your face and see the bustle skirts and ridiculous hats as if you were there yourself. The emphasis on the social issues of the time brought to mind A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray or Lee’s other excellent historical drama, Under a Painted Sky. Readers hoping for an idyllic glance at history won’t find it here: Lee doesn’t smooth over the blemishes. The everyday racism Mercy faces hits like a slap, and it hits often.

However, the book does not take a melancholy tone. Mercy is a determined, driven young woman with a big heart and a fierce sense of justice, and the narrative allows these qualities to shine. Readers will have no trouble connecting to Mercy and cheering for her triumphs, even if they also weep for her losses. The message of the novel is positive: people can overcome their hatred and band together in times of crisis, and that might be enough to enact change. That said, I’m not sure that message worked for me. Without spoiling anything, it felt like some of the tragedies in the second half of the novel soured the hopefulness of the conclusion. Maybe that was the point, but either way, it didn’t sit well on my stomach and I found it hard to rejoice with the characters on the last few pages.

Nonetheless, we need more YA that focuses on historical voices that are all too often forgotten. We can’t move forward as a society if we forget the mistakes we’ve made in the past, and Outrun the Moon reminds us of those mistakes through a thrilling, heartfelt story. Readers looking for a unique voice in an exciting historical setting will adore this novel.

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