Outrun the Moon

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
Outrun the Moon Book Poster Image
Chinese-American girl fights bias in compelling 1906 tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The author -- a fourth-generation Californian with roots in San Francisco’s Chinatown -- gives readers a vivid window into the daily life of early 20th-century Chinatown, from the food prepared by families to numerology, Chinese medicine, and the Benevolent Society that holds sway over the community's business life.

Positive Messages

In perilous circumstances, differences in race or class become meaningless as everyone learns to work together. Leadership is not about having the right background or skin color -- it's all about character. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Mercy is feisty, tough, and confident that her intelligence and street smarts can open the doors necessary to make her dreams come true. That said, she’s not above using lies and bribery to help swing open those doors.

Violence

Characters and their families are killed in the earthquake, a man is beaten, and looters are shot by the Army. The headmistress punishes Mercy by striking her with a ruler so hard that it breaks.

Sex

There’s one kiss. It’s noted that each of a classmate’s parents is having an affair.

Language

Characters use racist words such as "ching-chong," "Chinagirl," "monkeys," and "Mongols."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Stacey Lee's Outrun the Moon is a novel set in San Francisco just before and after the city is devastated by the famous 1906 earthquake. Mercy Wong, a Chinese-American teen living with her family in Chinatown, uses a combination of cunning and bribery to gain admittance to the best girls' school in the city -- a school that's never had a student who wasn't privileged and white. The discrimination against Asians that's rampant in the city follows her to the school, but the earthquake and its aftermath forever change the relationship between Mercy and her classmates and how they view race and class distinctions. Descriptions of deaths during the earthquake and the fires and looting that follow are sometimes intense but not overly graphic. There are racial slurs such as "Mongols" and "ching-chong." As in her critically acclaimed first novel, Under a Painted Sky, Lee has created characters who are easily relatable to teens living more than a century later. 

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What's the story?

In OUTRUN THE MOON, 15-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to get the best education available to girls in 1906 San Francisco -- a seemingly impossible dream when you live in Chinatown and are the daughter of a impoverished laundry owner and a fortune teller. Mercy sets her sights on St. Clare's School for Girls, which prides itself on admitting only white young ladies from the best families. She crafts a plan -- part fast-talking and part bribery -- and secures a spot at the school and a new identity as an heiress from mainland China. While a few girls befriend her, she struggles to fit in and must constantly be on her guard lest her true identity be discovered. But after an earthquake destroys their school, it's Mercy who steps up and and takes charge of her frightened classmates as they camp in a city park and wait for help to arrive.

Is it any good?

This compelling story, set against the catastrophic 1906 San Francisco earthquake and its spirited stereotype-busting Chinese-American heroine should prove irresistible to readers. While the terror and destruction of the earthquake provide a dramatic backdrop, the core of the story is the evolving friendship between Mercy and her classmates and how they learn to see both themselves and the people in the world around them beyond surface appearances. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about prejudice. What kinds of prejudice do you see in your school or community? Do you think it’s possible for attitudes to change so that everyone is treated equally?

  • Mercy and her friends have no way to contact their families after the earthquake. If you couldn't use your cell phone or the internet after a natural disaster, how would you reconnect with your family and friends?

  • Mercy schemes to get a place at St. Clare's and then lies when she becomes a student. If being deceptive would allow you to better yourself and the life of your family, would you do it? 

Book details

Themes & Topics

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For kids who love Asian stories and historical fiction

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