Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

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I found Outrun the Moon on a Goodreads list a couple of months before it came out. My interest was piqued, and I added it to my queue. I found it in the New YA Books section at my town library.

Outrun the Moon is a YA novel by Stacy Lee. It takes place around the time of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. There have been a couple of recent books across various genres set during the same milieu; this is not surprising- it is the 100th anniversary of the great tragedy.

Mercy Wong is a hard working young woman living in Chinatown. She does not have any opportunities for school beyond the 8th grade in her community, and she wants nothing but the best for herself. That includes a position for herself at St. Clare’s, an exclusive girls’ school. This school is not open to Chinese girls, but Mercy finagles a position for herself.

We are briefly treated to a classic boarding school trope of an outsider winning over her classmates, but then disaster strikes in the form of the earthquake. The girls are forced to leave their crumbling school and set up a camp in a nearby park. Can Mercy and her classmates work together with limited resources, not knowing if their family and friends are safe or how long they will have to live in the park while the city burns around them?

I enjoyed reading Outrun the Moon. Lee includes many historical details that give a sense of what life was like in San Francisco just after the turn of the century. The Chinatown scenes were especially interesting; they offered an interesting juxtaposition to the life in the rest of the city. Likewise, Mercy is a delightful protagonist. She knows what she wants in life, and is willing to work hard to get it. She adapts well to her new surroundings, but does not forget about her family. After the earthquake, her sorrow and confusion are almost palpable, as is her determination to survive.

I would recommend Outrun the Moon. Even though this book takes place a hundred years ago, there are some aspects of the plot that modern readers can relate to, like having to deal with the school “mean girl”. There are also some great messages of empowerment and goal setting that translate well to the 21st century.   I am pleased to have discovered Stacy Lee, and I am looking forward to reading more from her!

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