Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee is a breath of fresh air for young adult readers who are tired of reading the same plotlines over and over and over again. Taking place in the past, this novel is the perfect antidote to the bombardment of dystopia novels overwhelming the YA distribution list of late. Mercy Wong is a first generation Chinese-American living with her parents in Chinatown, San Francisco in 1906. Yes, as in the same year as the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. Wanting more for herself and her younger brother, Mercy bribes her way into an exclusively white all-girls school, determined to fulfil her dreams of becoming the greatest businesswoman California’s ever seen. Armed with only her wit and her “bossy-cheeks,” Mercy blends into the school by pretending to be a wealthy heiress from China rather than the daughter of a fortune-teller and launderer.
At first, it seemed this novel would fall into the usual trap of “all other females are competition” and “she's one of the boys” attitude that is so prevalent and toxic in the YA genre. However, Mercy’s relationships with her female peers are authentic and complex – distrust and fear gradually melts away into friendship and respect. The novel also features a mature romantic relationship with real struggles. Mercy’s boyfriend (that’s right – she already has one when the book starts) wants to see the world while Mercy is content to stay in San Francisco. This clash of dreams and personal desires is one that several teens have had or will have in their lives, and the couple treats each other with understanding, admiration, and love.
However, it’s not all female friendships and realistic relationships. About halfway through the novel, right when Mercy’s found herself in a horrible personal situation, the earthquake hits. The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 was one of the worst natural disasters in history. Buildings collapsed and the city burned for days. And it’s up to Mercy Wong to gather together her classmates and keep them alive when they are stuck in Golden Gate Park for the foreseeable future.
With complex characters, an intelligent and resourceful female lead, heartbreaking tragedy, hilarious antics, and historical realism, Outrun the Moon is a fabulous read for young teens, and earned its spot on Blue Spruce’s list of the Best YAs of 2017. Highly recommended!
Happy reading, readers!
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