San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty in Chinatown, and an education at St. Clare’s School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare’s is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong—until disaster strikes.
On April 18, a historic earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying Mercy’s home and school. With martial law in effect, she is forced to wait with her classmates for their families in a temporary park encampment. Though fires might rage, and the city may be in shambles, Mercy can’t sit by while they wait for the army to bring help—she still has the “bossy” cheeks that mark her as someone who gets things done. But what can one teenage girl do to heal so many suffering in her broken city?
I fell in love with Stacey Lee’s writing while reading Under a Painted Sky and I couldn’t wait to start a new historical book by her. It was everything I could have wanted going in and is definitely on my list of favourite books I’ve read this year.
Mercy Wong was a strong young woman who knew what she wanted and she was determined to get it. She wanted an education and the only way to get the kind she wanted, the kind that could lift her family from poverty, was to somehow get a school that didn’t accept outsiders to accept her. And pay for her tuition. She was resourceful and her fiery personality was often described as her having ‘bossy cheeks’, which wasn’t a sought after trait for a marriage match but Mercy’s focused was on education and they served her well.
The friendships and supporting characters in this book were amazing. I loved them just as much as I loved the friendships and supporting characters in Under a Painted Sky. Mercy wasn’t immediately accepted by everyone when she started at the school but her willingness to stand up for herself against the mean girls and charm drew people in. There was a bit of romance, and I loved it, but the book was far more focused on the friendships, Mercy’s development, and the earthquake.
The slower pace of the plot meant having time to fully absorb the culture and the history. It was present in every inch of the book. Just because it was slower paced didn’t mean it was boring or that it felt like it dragged. Things picked up once the earthquake happened and the characters were faced with the devastation of the aftermath as well as trying to survive until their families, if they had someone, could find a way to pick them up. It was amazing to see how resourceful the girls were and how willing they were to look past their differences to come together with one goal.
My biggest worry going into this book was that I wouldn’t enjoy it as much as Under a Painted Sky or that my expectations would be too high based on how much I loved the first book. I’m so happy that I ended up loving this one too. Stacey Lee just keeps exceeding my expectations.