Lee, Stacey. Outrun the Moon
May 24th 2016 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Mercy Wong has graduated from the local grammar school in 1906 San Francisco and would like to attend the exclusive St. Clare's School for Girls. However, she knows that it is unlikely that the daughter of the owner of a Chinese laundry will be accepted into such a place, so she uses subterfuge, a little bribery, and some business leverage to secure her position there. She is introduced as a wealthy, aristocratic Chinese girl to the other students, but the daughter of the man whom she offers to help, Elodie, knows the truth. In fact, in her father's absence, Elodie has to speak before the family association in order for her father's chocolate business to be allowed to open a branch in Chinatown. Mercy wants to learn more about commerce and business in order to escape the crushing poverty that makes her asthmatic brother Jack's life seem so treacherous, and she is surprised to find that the girls at St. Clare's have classes in embroidery and tea pouring so that they can find good husbands. Some of the students are nice, but Mercy's path is not an easy one. When the Great San Francisco Earthquake occurs, no one's life is easy, and the girls from St. Clare's, along with the headmistress, try their best to survive and locate their families. Many, including Mercy, lose those dear to them, but they all try to make the best of the situation and help other survivors by setting up a kitchen and providing food.
Strengths: In some ways, it is mind boggling that this book is set only 110 years ago. The depictions of life in Chinatown and the treatment of the Chinese was very interesting, and Mercy's determination to better her life was fascinating. There was a nice romance, mean girls, AND a boarding school. I enjoyed this tremendously.
Weaknesses: In fact, I was having so much fun reading about Mercy's efforts to break free of her life of poverty that I was a bit surprised when the earthquake happened! I almost wished that the book was set well before or after that event, because I while I've read book about the earthquake, I'd never read one about a young Chinese girl at this time trying to become educated. Once the earthquake hit, her plans had to be put on hold.
What I really think: I'll probably buy a copy, but it will be tough to get students to read it. It's long (400 pages), historical fiction, and doesn't have a whole lot of romance. Still, it's really good, and I wish more of my students read historical fiction.
WHAT I MEAN BY THIS is that I have all sorts of displays with historical fiction, especially when teachers are doing a unit on a particular era in class. I book talk it. I recommend it. I put it in children's hands, only to have them wrinkle their noses and put the books down. I love historical fiction, having consumed a steady diet of Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, The Childhood of Famous Americans, Children of the Covered Wagon, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond. There is only so much I can do to encourage their love of it before they start getting annoyed with me that I am not honoring their requests but rather giving them what I would like to read.
Maybe next school year, when we don't let them have their cell phones during Sustained Silent Reading. Well, I hope that we don't. I'm becoming very concerned about their reliance on the devices! Lunch is too, too sad with all of the children glued to a screen instead of interacting with others.