6 October 2016

Review #533: Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Once you have been in an earthquake you know, even if you survive without a scratch, that like a stroke in the heart, it remains in the earth's breast, horribly potential, always promising to return, to hit you again, with an even more devastating force. ”

----Salman Rushdie

Stacey Lee, a Chinese-American author, has penned an incredibly arresting young adult historical fiction novel, Outrun the Moon where the author weaves a story about a Chinese-American teenage girl who breaks free from her wretched life in Chinatown and earns a shortcut way to one of the prestigious and poshest boarding school in America where she outsmarts the game of pretending on being some heiress but when tragedy strikes, it is her moment to save the school thereby saving the world.


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?

The fifteen year old Chinese American girl, Mercy, wants out of her wretched life with limited opportunities in Chinatown. She must do something to not only make her life better, but her brother's too who works as a labor. And this sharp teenager with high cheekbones know the right way to break free from such a life. Mercy finds a way, or rather say, pays bribe to get her hands on the scholarship to one of the most prestigious all girls boarding school where only the rich and famous send their daughters to earn a reputable and suitable prospect for marriage. Mercy is clever enough to pose and pretend herself as a Chinese heiress to earn a band of diverse and ethnic group of friends where either some are lying just like her, or some are genuinely posh. Soon earthquake strikes and this earthquake finally bridges the gap between the two cultures who don't see eye to eye, Chinese and American. Devastation is hanging in the air, while Mercy plans to save the survivors. Can she single-handedly save the people she is close to?

I would like to take a bow to the author as after reading the book, I realized what she has tried to portray through the story line. The message is loud and clear, that will hit upon those especially those readers who are still living with a cultural gap and hatred among themselves for a race like Chinese even in this 21st century. Those the story is set in the early 20th century, yet the issues still exist even in a modern world like ours. My heart ached for the characters who are subjected to meaningless and hurtful racist remarks about their race or their facial structure. And I believe after reading this book, the readers would stop to ponder upon their actions and on their thoughts about such a powerful social message.

The writing is evocative, though the emotional depth felt bit hasty at times, and the essence of the Chinatown is so deep that we lose ourselves easily into the tale and never want to come out of it. The prose is articulate thus giving a fast pace to this book. In one word, Lee has created a compelling and thought-provoking tale that give us glimpse into the social and global issues like Earthquake or racism. The narrative is extremely alluring and free flowing as the readers will easy to comprehend with the tale.

The characters are marvelously portrayed, especially a diverse character like Mercy, highlighting both her flaws and strong qualities, that will ultimately make the readers fall for her. Her lies and deceit won't make the readers hate her, instead she is strikingly justified of her actions and makes her look like a hero in the eyes of the readers. Mercy is barely 15 years old, yet her feminist ways make her charming and mature, the way she breaks the norms of a society where young girls are asked to married off right after their school, in order to become independent even in the early 1900s is remarkable. The Chinese characters are evocatively portrayed with the pain that they live through out their lives in a foreign land like America, where opportunities only meant to become a labor for some white house hold. The author captures that feel of that situation that will make the readers sympathize for the characters. The rest of the supporting characters are also quite well developed. I believe the romance part could have been easily deleted from the story line, as it holds no meaning or does not bring out any passion from those characters' demeanor.

The author also captivates the devastatingly painful loss and grief over losing a loved one on a natural calamity and that makes the main character weak for a while but she gradually learns from the pain to help those who have survived. Her leadership qualities that make her extraordinary even in the times like an earthquake has hit the city did not deter her once from her position.

In a nutshell, this is another ground breaking novel by the author which will open many eyes as well as hearts towards cultural diversity, curbing racism and becoming independent and strong female.

Verdict: Thoroughly interesting, heart breaking yet extremely engrossing YA novel.

Courtesy: Thanks to the author's publishers for giving me an opportunity to read and review this book.

Author Info:
Stacey Lee is a fourth generation Chinese-American whose people came to California during the heydays of the cowboys. She believes she still has a bit of cowboy dust in her soul. A native of southern California, she graduated from UCLA then got her law degree at UC Davis King Hall. After practicing law in the Silicon Valley for several years, she finally took up the pen because she wanted the perks of being able to nap during the day, and it was easier than moving to Spain. She plays classical piano, raises children, and writes YA fiction.
Visit her here

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