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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?
Last year, I fell in love with Stacey Lee’s debut book, Under a Painted Sky. Just from reading that one book from her, I knew she would be an author who mastered every book that she tackled. Outrun the Moon proved that for me. It’s a harrowing, yet hopeful tale of strength, courage and love in the aftermath of San Fransisco’s biggest natural disaster, the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fires.
For me, the best part of Outrun the Moon were the characters. It’s an understatement for me to say that I loved Mercy, our protagonist here, because love doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings for this girl. She is the shining star of this book and she is the reason why everyone everywhere must read it. From the moment she wrangled her way into an all-white girl’s school using her smarts, I had nothing but admiration for her. As a Chinese-born American, she was very much at a disadvantage in that era. But Mercy never abandoned her dreams and goals for a better life. She was a determined, strong and incredibly resilient young woman. She faced obstacle after obstacle in Outrun the Moon, but she never let them get to her. Even when she faced personal loss, she grieved, then moved on with her head held high – you can’t help but look up to her and wish you had her strength. I wish there were more girls like Mercy in YA because she is absolutely the sort of character that can teach readers, young and old, to believe in themselves, be kind to others and face whatever hurdle life throws at you by focusing on your ambitions. Isn’t that an invaluable lesson?
Besides Mercy’s character, I adored how much focus there was on friendships, like with Stacey Lee’s previous novel. When Mercy enrolls at St. Clare’s, some of her fellow students look down on her for the simple fact that she’s Chinese. Over the course of the book though, she makes some amazing friendships. What was really great about these girls bonding was how they taught each other acceptance by showing each other their different cultures. Mercy, in a way, forced these girls to become independent, and to seek goals other than marriage in life. The earthquake forces them to become close to one another and I loved that sense of closeness, support and love they gain for each other. My favorite scenes in the book were definitely the big meal Mercy and her friends plan for the people at the park they find refuge in, so as to ease the suffering in a small, but powerful way, bringing together people of different backgrounds. There’s also a sweet childhood-friends-turned-more romance here, which remained in the background, between Mercy and a cute boy, Tom, for those of you who like romance.
I’ll admit to expecting Outrun the Moon to being perhaps more fast-paced judging from the summary, but it was very much of a slow-moving novel. I’m not complaining though. It is a very character-driven story and a lot of the focus is on the emotional impacts that the earthquake has on Mercy and the city. Reading about the aftermath of the earthquake was honestly tough, because every scene was laced with grief, loss and pain. It was hard watching Mercy and her friends suffer, but I loved that Stacey Lee left readers with hope and smiles throughout the book. As you may have expected, Outrun the Moon was also rich in culture. I loved the glimpses the author gave us into the customs and lifestyle of Chinese Americans in that time. The Chinatown setting, especially, was so vibrant. Stacey Lee’s writing was, once again, stunning, and for me, it was even better than the first book. She is beyond talented! Every sentence that she crafts is powerful and poignant. If you’re a YA reader and have yet to experience the beauty of her prose, you are honestly missing out.
Outrun the Moon has so much to offer readers with its story about feminism, diversity, friendship and love. Stacey Lee is quite honestly a queen when it comes to historical fiction and she proved that 100% with Outrun the Moon. If there’s one book you should pick up in 2016, this one is it.