Outrun the Moon

In San Francisco's Chinatown in 1906, 15-year-old Mercy Wong's graduation from the Oriental Public School effectively means her education has stalled. While she might not object to marrying her handsome childhood sweetheart, she absolutely rejects her limited options as "a mere girl, a Chinese girl no less." She vows to rescue her family from poverty, and is determined to gain entrance into the exclusive St. Clare's School for Girls.

With an unlikely combination of exquisite chocolate, a coveted plant bulb, daring bluster--and a little sly manipulation--Mercy joins the entitled St. Clare's girls. Admission, alas, doesn't mean acceptance; at the request of the deal-making school board president, Mercy enters the elite fold posing as a Chinese heiress. Straining under judgmental eyes, Mercy resorts to mirthful improvisations, even a fake tea ceremony during which she beseeches (in Cantonese), "may I not make a pigeon egg of myself." Mercy's approval-seeking attempts prove short-lived, as the massive earthquake levels San Francisco on April 18. St. Clare's is destroyed, forcing the headmistress to relocate her charges to Golden Gate Park until help arrives. Mercy's "bossy cheeks"--an authoritative streak her fortuneteller mother fully recognized--ensures that this "mere Chinese girl" will not wallow in worry, and instead she takes charge. Her St. Clare's education might have been truncated, but she "picked up something better": true friends.

Stacey Lee (Under a Painted Sky), a fourth-generation Californian with roots in Mercy's San Francisco Chinatown, enhances authentic history with intertwined narratives of longing, first love, unlikely bonds, familial loss, multi-generational alliances and more. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

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