Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

Outrun the Moon

by Stacey Lee

From the author of the critically acclaimed Under a Painted Sky, an unforgettable story of determination set against a backdrop of devastating tragedy. Perfect for fans of Code Name Verity.

Winner of the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Young Adult
Winner of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature

San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty of 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. Now she’s 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?

Stacey Lee masterfully crafts another remarkable novel set against a unique historical backdrop. Strong-willed Mercy Wong leads a cast of diverse characters in this extraordinary tale of survival.

Reviewed by layawaydragon on

5 of 5 stars

I was dying to get my hands on Outrun the Moon as soon as I heard about it. I was on a quest and entered every giveaway I could find. While I'm not lucky enough to have a copy grace my broke-ass's shelf, my hold from the library came through.

I broke my rule about following review copies with deadlines. I skipped ahead to Outrun the Moon. In my defense, it would've been unfair since I'd be thinking about this book while trying to just get the others done already!

I don't know where to start. I don't know how to start. It's fucking FLAWLESS.

Hell, I feel inadequate trying to write this review.

There is absolutely nothing bad to say. Nothing. No minor complaints or nit-picks or pet-peeves. It's all fucking amazing: characters, setting, plot, writing. You name it, Outrun the Moon does it perfectly.

I'm trying not to fangirl everywhere and make it a gif review. It's hard because Outrun the Moon is so fucking good you guys.

It's about friendships and bigotry, opportunity and oppression and community and segregation wrapped in such lovely writing, profound messages and lessons that causes ALL the feels.

The characters are so well done. Mercy and her classmates grew, had depth and impacted the story greatly. They're all real people and dynamic. Their gender and race effects who they are and how they act. Even with the larger cast, they’re all distinct. I never had a problem keeping track. I don’t even really want to call them background characters because they were so good and important.

There's a bit of romance but 1.) it doesn't overwhelm or take focus, 2.) They’re actually friends and act like it, 3.) They were actually compatible, 4.) They did what was best for them even if it meant being apart and they were happy for each other. That's so mature and dammit, I know there are teens who do this that don't get representation and those who need to see this kind of love.

Even after all that rambling, I don't think ya'll understand how much I LOVE this book. I have notes and highlights several times during almost every chapter and beyond to the Author's Note, Author's Second Note and Acknowledgements. Her list of people that helped and gave her the "stamp of approval" for what she wrote, how she portrayed the people and time...Stacy Lee is fucking phenomenal.

It makes me want to cry, both in gratitude and wonder. I don't cry a lot and when I do it's usually from being overwhelmed or a panic attack but this? There were tears. When I thought it was safe, more came.

Her Acknowledgements being with this quote from Jean Massieu, a pioneer deaf educator: "Gratitude is the memory of the heart." [Cool note: It's become a proverb in France.]

Thank you, Stacey Lee for writing this. For all of your time and research and skills. It's been weeks trying to write this review and I'm still struggling for words and tearing up just thinking about it.

Stacey Lee is a must read author. I can’t wait to get read her previous book, Under a Painted Sky and her next book, Secret of a Heart Note, coming out this December(!!).

Did you know?

"In 1879, California adopted a new Constitution, which explicitly authorized the state government to determine which individuals were allowed to reside in the state, and banned the Chinese from employment by corporations and state, county or municipal governments."

"Many people strongly supported the Chinese Exclusion Act, including the Knights of Labor, a labor union, who supported it because it believed that industrialists were using Chinese workers as a wedge to keep wages low. Among labor and leftist organizations, the Industrial Workers of the World were the sole exception to this pattern. The IWW openly opposed the Chinese Exclusion Act from its inception in 1905.

Read more about the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first law implemented to prevent a specific ethnic group from immigrating to the United States.

After records burned in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake many immigrants (known as "paper sons") claimed that they had familial ties to resident Chinese-American citizens.

Here's a moving article from Steve Kwok via Immigrant Voices, My Father Was a Paper Son

A Sampling

I wasn’t joking about all the notes, highlights, and bookmarks I made earlier. While I can’t share them all, and some you need context/spoilers, I’ve done the hard work of picking ones I can share. They’re only in chronological order, not ranked.


"Hard work wasn't enough to get rich, or else we'd already be living in a mansion on Nob Hill with cut-glass windows like those of Leland Stanford or Mark Hopkins. No, the key to wealth was opportunity. And if opportunity didn't come knocking, then Mrs. Lowry says you must build own door."

~ Chapter 3, pg. 8.


"It strikes me that I could be back in my tenement courtyard listening to the women gossip over the community soup. Same pot, different stirrers."

~Chapter 10 pg. 8.


" 'Joi-gin,' I whisper. May he hear out Cantonese word for good-by, which means 'see you again.' He may never be my partner in business or in life, but I hope his boat will return one day. "

~ Chapter 15, pg. 2.


"The poor man, whose intentions were so quickly imagined for him because of the way the light hits his skin. My heart bleeds for that man. Isn't that why I had to con my way into St. Clare's? Even if I did climb to the top of that mountain one day, people will never stop seeing my color first, before me."

~Chapter 26 pg. 11.


"The vanishing sun lights the sky a strange yellow purple, half day in the west and half night in the east. It amazes me that even when the world is going to hell in a handcart, there's still beauty in the fringes."

~Chapter 27, pg 11.


"My life has changed. There is no going back. There is only holding on to this present, whose shape is as hard to define as a cloud."

~Chapter 27, pg 14.


"[Mrs. Lowry] Our success is determined not by external forces, but how we react to them. And didn't Ma always tell her more hapless clients that you can't prevent the birds of misfortune from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from making nests in your hair?"

~Chapter 27, pg 14.


"Some parents bring their children up and, I suppose, others let them down. At least we can choose our friends."

~Chapter 35, pg. 4.


'For every rule, there is a rule breaker.' Her gaze flits to me. 'And a ruler breaker.'

-Chapter 38, pg 11.


"A part of me understands the need to keep order, but another part worries that we are being led to fear the wrong things.

It's just like Chinatown and all the laws passed to contain us. We were never the enemy. The enemy was our country's own fear. "

~Chapter 42, pg. 4.

Bonus! From the Author's Second Note:

However, history is a general overview, and overlooks the story, the possibility of the individual. If we are confined by the strict margins of what is "known" to be true, we would never explore the power of what could be true. We would deny our ability to create our own stories, to make our own magic. And what is life, without that?"

Have you read Outrun the Moon yet? If not, will you? Which quote is your favorite? 

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Reading updates

  • Started reading
  • 29 May, 2016: Finished reading
  • 29 May, 2016: Reviewed