Book Review: Luck of the Titanic by Stacey Lee

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Valora Luck has two things: a ticket for the biggest and most luxurious ocean liner in the world, and a dream of leaving England behind and making a life for herself as a circus performer in New York. Much to her surprise, though, she’s turned away at the gangway; apparently, Chinese people aren’t allowed into America.

But Val has to get on that ship. Her twin brother, Jamie, who has spent two long years at sea, is on board, as is an influential circus owner. Thankfully, there’s not much a trained acrobat like Val can’t overcome when she puts her mind to it.

As a stowaway, Val should keep her head down and stay out of sight. But the clock is ticking and she has just seven days as the ship makes its way across the Atlantic to find Jamie, audition for the circus owner, and convince him to help get them both into America.

Then one night, the unthinkable happens, and suddenly Val’s dreams of a new life are crushed under the weight of the only thing that matters: survival. 

Luck of the Titanic by Stacey Lee
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Stacey Lee is such an esteemed historical YA author. I’ve been following her since her debut novel Under a Painted Sky. Luck of the Titanic is no different than her previous works, it was meticulously researched and executed. Although, the vein of the story still lies within the characters. We know how Titanic ended, please don’t expect a happy ending or you’ll be disappointed.

Luck of the Titanic follows the story of Valora, an aspiring acrobat from England. She boarded the Titanic under the guise of a first-class widower after she was barred from entering because of the Chinese Exclusion Act that was implemented in the United of States. Her main goal is to reunite with her twin-brother Jamie, who works as a crew member for Titanic, and to audition as an acrobat for Ringling Brothers Circus. The essence of the story was Valora’s dream to be an acrobat performer along with her estranged brother; the heroine will stop at nothing to achieve her goals.

As a 90’s kid, I discovered “Titanic” legitimately happened after watching the 1997 film adaptation; it was a romanticized version of the real-life tragedy. There were several stories left untold like how most of the lifeboats were filled with women and children – mostly upper echelon; their safety was prioritized. There was a significant difference in the demographics that survived. Even in death, we are divided by class. 

Stacey Lee rewrote the history by highlighting the fictional plight of the Chinese survivors we had not heard about.

There is a lot of things to love about the Luck of the Titanic. Firstly, the strong and complex characterization of the whole cast. We have Valora, a fiery and free-spirited main character along with her earnest brother Jamie who’s in love with one of the first-class passengers. I personally love the twin bond of Val and Jamie, it’s rooted in genuine love and generational trauma; I’m definitely adding them to my favorite-fictional-siblings list.

In addition, there is a romance, although I would hardly categorized it as such, between Val and Bo, one of Jamie’s friend and also part of the Chinese Titanic crew. The book slightly highlighted the tension between Val and Bo, but like I said the essence of the story is Val and Jamie’s journey to America.

I anticipated a tragic ending but I was still in denial. Lee subverted the specific ending I thought would happen, I mean the Titanic still sunk but it doesn’t mean it hurt any less. Just prepare your tissues for the last chapters of this book because you will cry (probably).

Altogether, Stacey Lee created a heart-wrenching story with the Luck of the Titanic. Readers would be able to note the meticulous research and attention to details. Ultimately, I fell in love with Valora’s courage and her willingness to follow her dreams. Perfect for historical fans particularly Titanic fans.

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CW: racism, slurs, mention of dead parents, mention of neglectful father