Mrs Lowry is an unseen character from the beginning of the novel as Mercy comes by a copy of a book she has written, “Book for Business-Minded Women” which she has used to plan out her life. She comes into the story for real at the end of the novel as she turns out to be Katie’s aunt and, of course, will be a real help for Mercy to achieve her dream.
Marcus is a “baddie” in the novel. Francesca’s parents have promised her to him in marriage but she is resisting. He is in the Army and after the earthquake he throws his weight around to stop looting even though most people are just looking for food to keep them alive. At the end of the novel Francesca meets someone else who is more to her liking and is a much nicer person.
The book reads in two parts. The first half is set before the San Francisco earthquake and the second half is during and after the earthquake.
The novel is written in the first-person narrator style from Mercy’s point of view. The plot is a little slow at times but most readers will be interested enough in Mercy’s story to continue.
The story opens introducing readers to Mercy and her family and to cultural aspects of life in Chinatown. It continues to show how Mercy uses cunning and bribery to negotiate her way into a scholarship at St Clare’s by convincing Monsieur De Lac that she can secure a contract for him to sell his chocolates in Chinatown.
Some time is spent as Mercy adjusts to boarding school life and then the earthquake hits. The resulting fires destroy Chinatown and Mercy learns that her Ma and Jack have been killed.
The remainder of the novel deals with the girls setting up a temporary park encampment as best they can to survive. Under Mercy’s leadership they each use their skills to become quite comfortable. Francesca is an excellent cook and they set up a camp food kitchen to help other people. It is a multicultural community and people forget their prejudices and see the good in each other.
Mercy goes to look for Ba who was away from home at the time of the earthquake. She locates his cart crushed under a collapsed building and is convinced he is dead and so returns to camp desolate. But as she returns to camp she sees that Tom has arrived by balloon and Ba is with him. Tom takes Mercy for a balloon ride and they seal their jubilant reunion with a kiss.
The author admits that she has adjusted some of the time frames to historical facts. Other Chinese and American historical issues such as the Opium Wars and the Chinese Exclusion Act are mentioned. It also discusses Chinese cultural matters such as binding feet, food, child rearing and herbal medicine.
Mercy has been exposed to both the Christian God and Chinese traditional beliefs. She says she doesn’t believe in her mother’s traditional fortune telling and Chinese philosophical and astrological precepts, dismissing them as superstitions although a part of her pays attention.
Overall, there is a message of acceptance of other people’s beliefs and customs brought about by shared troubles.
The language in this novel is beautifully written; having delightful turns of phrase and includes a great sense of humour and wit. It is full of rich detail, vivid imagery and well crafted emotions.
The Cantonese language pays a large part in the novel. Readers might need to check on meanings but it will not stop the flow of the story. There are many Chinese sayings such as the title of the novel “You can’t outrun the moon” and lessons in Chinese customs such as Feng shui. There are racial slurs such as “Mongols” and “ching-chong” that are not acceptable today but which would have been common in the early twentieth century.
Outrun the Moon is a compelling and thought-provoking story that gives insight into Chinese American culture and the social issues resulting from a devastating natural disaster and racism. It also has a strong message of female empowerment and compassion. The balance between Mercy wanting a better life for herself and her family while continuing to appreciate her loving family and Chinese background sends a good message to readers. Even though it is set in 1906 the novel has many relevant messages for modern day teenagers. It is suitable for readers of twelve years and over.