Thanks to PenguinTeen for sending me a physical ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
This is my first foray into Stacey Lee’s writing, and let me tell you, she writes a story well! I’m eager to read her other works now and am a bit ashamed I waited so long to read something by her despite owning two of her backlist books.
Anyway, this post is not about feeling sorry for myself, so let’s move on, lol.
Content warnings: discussions of alcoholism, racism, misogyny, xenophobia
Title: Luck of the Titanic
Author: Stacey Lee
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Expected release date: May 4, 2021
Genre: Young adult, historical fiction
Length: 304 pages (hardcover)
Synopsis: (via Goodreads) “Southampton, 1912: Seventeen-year-old British-Chinese Valora Luck has quit her job and smuggled herself aboard the Titanic with two goals in mind: to reunite with her twin brother Jamie–her only family now that both their parents are dead–and to convince a part-owner of the Ringling Brothers Circus to take the twins on as acrobats. Quick-thinking Val talks her way into opulent first class accommodations and finds Jamie with a group of fellow Chinese laborers in third class. But in the rigidly stratified world of the luxury liner, Val’s ruse can only last so long, and after two long years apart, it’s unclear if Jamie even wants the life Val proposes. Then, one moonless night in the North Atlantic, the unthinkable happens–the supposedly unsinkable ship is dealt a fatal blow–and Val and her companions suddenly find themselves in a race to survive.
Stacey Lee, master of historical fiction, brings a fresh perspective to an infamous tragedy, loosely inspired by the recently uncovered account of six Titanic survivors of Chinese descent.”
I’m going to assume that most of us know about the Titanic, whether it’s through the 1997 film or learning about it in history class (though I never did). Going into this book, we already know tragedy will strike but we’re unaware how deep or even how much it will hurt (trust me, it will). I loved the overall premise, a biracial character who wants to find her brother and join the circus in America but there is one major obstacle in her way: the Chinese Exclusion Act which forbids Chinese from entering America. Valora laments quite often how she looks more like her Chinese father than her British mother. To be quite honest, I thought there would be more…circus stuff, lol. Valora is pulled into her brother, Jamie’s, world quickly and realizes he has built a life over the past two years without her. There’s unspoken tension in the air between them as well, most of which stems from the relationship the two had with their father and how abandoned each sibling felt once their mother died. There were a few times I found the plot a little slow, but what really made up for it were the cast of characters. I actually wanted a bit more of Valora’s first-class life on board the ship.
I really enjoyed all the characters in this novel, from Miss April Hart who befriends Valora right away to the young Wink and Olly, who help Valora and Jamie with their circus act onboard. There’s also this small budding romance between Bo and Valora, which is quite adorable but I couldn’t help but think it would end in tragedy in some way. I liked how Valora wanted to continue to honor her father despite the circumstances after her mother died, and we see how she views her father is skewed. When she and Jamie have a heart-to-heart, they have hard conversations and we soon realize why Jamie left in the first place. Valora painted a good picture of her father despite the problems he had while Jamie saw things in a completely different way. It’s obvious the two loved both their parents very much, though, and I really liked that. Despite also being Chinese, I thought Valora felt a little torn when she met Jamie’s friends. She’s able to speak with them and relate to them, and that definitely does her some favors. It’s nice to see her become close with these people as well.
As I stated earlier, Lee writes a good, engrossing story. This was easy to read and follow and genuinely a lovely story. I like how Lee wanted to honor the recently discovered stories of the Chinese survivors of the Titanic. The ending truly did hit me the hardest. I was on the edge of my seat trying to figure out who would survive and well, I was very sad. To be honest, it’s one of the reasons I didn’t give the book 4 stars. I enjoyed that Lee tied real historical figures into her story, too, and I think it made the story come to life even more.
Check out these other reviews:
- Kaya at A Fictional Bookworm enjoyed the dialogue.
- Sara at Lyrical Reads wrote a great in-depth review.