Outrun the Moon will be released in May 2016. Thank you to Putnam/Penguin for the ARC!
I had been anticipating Outrun the Moon pretty much from the moment its summary came up. I really enjoyed Stacey Lee’s debut, Under a Painted Sky, but the storyline of this one sounded like something I’d enjoy even more. Setting expectations too high for a book is not always a good thing, but in this case, I have no regrets – Outrun the Moon surpassed every single one of them.
Set in San Francisco in 1906, the story’s lead is fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong, whose family lives in Chinatown. Wanting to continue her education, she uses her cunning skills and a little bribery to gain admittance to the prestigious St Clare’s School for Girls, where she pretends to be a wealthy heiress from China. Mercy faces both amusing and painful challenges in her early days at St Clare’s, but on April 18, a massive earthquake hits, destroying her home and school. Despite the hardship and the tragedy that occurs as a result of this, Mercy finds strength along with her friends, and remains determined to help those in need around her.
The first thing Lee absolutely nails is the voice. Mercy narrates the story with such observant details, bright humour, and a streak of rebellion that it’s impossible not to fall in love with her from the first page – and her determination really sets her apart as the story progresses. Her sense of humour made me laugh out loud more than once, especially when she’s doing or saying things she is absolutely clueless about. Yet there are hints of vulnerability, too, and moments when she really questions herself and her decisions. Mercy felt so incredibly real.
The historical setting was also depicted vividly, and I loved learning about and imagining Chinatown in 1906. Lee also doesn’t hold back from conveying the reality of racism and sexism in the period (though this is not a major part of the storyline), and it was great to see such an honest depiction. Obviously, it’s also refreshing to read historical fiction with a Chinese-American protagonist. The Chinese cultural elements were woven effectively throughout (anything I was unfamiliar with made sense in terms of generational differences), and it was refreshing to see this represented.
There’s a romantic subplot, though very much slow-burning – which happens to be the only type of romance I actually like. The focus of the book, however, is on friendships and how people coming together find strength, despite differences, in situations of disaster. This was fitting due to the nature of the tragedy, and it was poignant seeing Mercy’s relationships grow stronger, and watch enemies turn into reluctant allies and eventually friends.
Outrun the Moon was one of those rare books that had me flipping the pages so quickly and being immersed so deeply in the story that I would look down suddenly and think – I’m this far into the book already? I can’t recommend it enough, and I’m excited for the world to meet Mercy Wong this May!
Recommended for fans of: Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata, Little Paradise by Gabrielle Wang, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein