Outrun the Moon
Outrun the Moon, written by Stacey Lee, is a powerful, thought-provoking and evocative historical novel. The main protagonist is Mercy Wong from Chinatown in San Francisco, who with other diverse characters demonstrates courage to survive after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and the devastating fires that follows. Mercy has the determination to want to get her family out of poverty and in the process has to combat sexism and racism to achieve her ultimate aim of operating her own business.
The settings for the novel focus on Chinatown, St Claire’s School for Girls and the Golden Gate Park which was used as a temporary encampment after the devastating earthquake and fires. All settings are brilliantly portrayed from the crowded conditions of Chinatown to the opulence and obvious wealth of the white girls at St Claire’s and how the different nationalities set up their camps in the park.
The characters in the novel are racially diverse and well developed. The friendships and relationships are shown in an accurate and honest way.
Mercy Wong, whose Chinese name is Wong Mei-Si, is often called “Bossy cheeks” because of her high cheek bones. Mercy is 15 years old and has finished her schooling at the Chinese school which is the only school she is allowed to attend. She speaks English and Cantonese and sees being accepted into St Clair’s School for Girls as a way to progress her prospects and become an entrepreneur with enough wealth so her family can have a better life.
Mercy is a very likeable character who is marvellously portrayed with all her flaws and positive aspects of character. She is charming and mature as well as being strong-willed. When placed into survival mode with her friends as they escape the collapsing school buildings, she demonstrates courage and wisdom and takes a leadership role.
Mercy has a huge impact on the lives of other characters in the story showing compassion towards each person and copes with her own grief in difficult circumstances.
The reader is introduced to Tom early in the story. He is the son of the herbalist Ah Suk who expects him to follow in the profession. However, Tom is really interested in flying and has made a hot air balloon. Mercy and Tom have been friends all their lives and Mercy hopes that this will lead to a more romantic relationship. Neither of them think they are good enough for the other and Tom plans to leave to further his flying career when the earthquake strikes. Tom is fluent in English and Cantonese.
Mercy’s other family members include Ma, her mother who follows traditional Chinese religions and is a well-respected fortune teller in Chinatown. She predicts her early death and also that of Jack, Mercy’s six year-old brother who she adores. Ba is Mercy’s father who is a Catholic. He runs a laundry, working long hours for little reward.
The Du Lac’s are a French family that play a pivotal part in how Mercy gets to attend St Clare’s. Madame runs a chocolatier and Monsieur is chairman of the board for St Clare’s School for Girls. Their daughter Elodie is an opinionated girl who thinks it is beneath her to have to have Mercy in her class and is quite nasty but ultimately they come to an understanding and see positive aspects of each other’s characters.
Mercy has some difficulties with racism when she enters St Clare’s but she does make some friends. Francesca is Italian and is low on the social ladder, Minnie Mae and Ruby are twins from South Carolina, Katie is from Texas and Harriet who is known as Harry. Ruby is killed in the earthquake which leaves her twin devastated.