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Likely Stories : The Downstairs Girl, by Stacey Lee


I’m Jim McKeown.  Welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

Stacey Lee is a New York Times bestselling author of several novels, such as Under a Painted Sky, and Outrun the Moon.  She won the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature.  She was born in Southern California, and she now lives with her family outside San Francisco.  Downstairs Girl is her latest novel.

The story begins.  Stacey writes, “Being nice is like leaving your door wide open.  Eventually, someone’s going to mosey in and steal your best hat.  Me, I have only one hat and it is uglier than a smashed crow, so if someone stole it, the joke would be on their head, literally.  Still, boundaries must be set.  Especially boundaries over one’s worth. // Today I will demand a raise” (1-2). 

Jo has a job at a milliner. “‘Jo, I will no longer be requiring your services.  I only need one shop girl, and Lizzie will do.’ […] ‘B-but—’ I turned my back on Lizzie and lowered my pipes to a whisper. ‘Mrs. English, I trained her.  I can felt a block twice as fast as her, I’m never late, and you said I have an eye for color.’  I can’t lose this job” (6).  Ever cheerful, Jo remains hopeful.” (7).

Nathan is a publisher and suggests she write for him.  He asks.  ‘What does the Trumpeter have that we lack?’ […] ‘Advice from Aunt Edna.’  If we had an agony column, we could improve our readership.  What do women like?  Laundry tips?  “Why don’t you write one?” Nathan asks. // “I’d have to run it by your father” // Nathan groans.  “Forget I mentioned it.”  Jo devises a sample for the Trumpeter: Dear Miss Sweetie, I am a young woman with no dowery, and I have enough hair on my upper lip to resemble a dead ferret.  Despite this, a certain mister professes he is in love with me.  How can I believe him?  Maiden with a Mustachio.  Dear Maiden, Sometimes, love just stumbles into you, out of the blue, and no amount of facial hair can divert you from its path.  Sincerely yours, Miss Sweetie.

Stacey Lee’s fine novel, The Downstair Girl, is filled with ardor and humor, and she shares all the good and the bad in her life.  An excellent story!  5 Stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and Happy Reading!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.