It is January 1951. Lily, the main character of the book Girl in Reverse, written by Barbara Stuber, is sitting in her high school social studies class listening to a current events topic presented by one of her classmates, Neil Bradford. The topic of his current event revolves around a political cartoon of what Neil says are “Chinese commies” attacking little children who are all wearing nametags of members of the United Nations. When Neil is finished presenting, the political cartoon is passed around. Once Lily receives it, looks at it, she tries to hand it to the boy behind her. However, he doesn’t take it. Rather, he insults Lily by fake coughing the insult, “Chink”. Other classmates join in by using other Chinese insults and they continue to do so while their teacher completely ignores what is occurring. Apparently no one is trying to stop the racist comments and actions, causing Lily to become overwhelmed by sadness and frustration. She gets out of her seat and walks out of the school. Unbeknownst to her, this action will be the first step she will take toward finding herself.
Lily is a Chinese teenager living in America during the Korean War and the era of communism. Yet she has virtually no connection to her Chinese past because she was put up for adoption at a very young age and she doesn’t know anything about her Chinese heritage or her birth parents. However, that all changes when her little brother Ralph finds Chinese artifacts that were hidden away in her adopted family’s attic. The artifacts may give her clues to finding out more about her heritage and her birth parents. Initially, Lily is hesitant to start researching her past. This is a result of the day she stood up for herself and walked out of her classroom. For Lily, the biggest battle wasn’t the one occurring overseas or the conflicts she received in school for being Asian during the 1950s. The biggest battle was the one within and overcoming the fears and obstacles of understanding who she is and from where she came. Fortunately, with the help of Mr. Howard (a black janitor employed in Lily’s school who also experiences racism and prejudices), Elliot James (an art genius and friend), and the Chows (a husband and wife who are Chinese, own a Chinese restaurant, and who also experience racism and prejudices), living “in reverse” may not be so difficult after all.
Girl in Reverse is a really interesting read. Although I am not one to always pick up books without cliff hangers or suspense, Barbara Stuber does a great job of making the book very intriguing with her descriptive writing style, flow, relatively short chapters, and plot. All of these elements pulled me in with a desire to want to know how Lily’s search for her past would end. Although Barbara Stuber does touch on very sensitive topics (racism and prejudice), she presents it in a way that indirectly advances the main storyline (which is about finding yourself and standing up for who you are). This also causes the story to set itself apart from most others books that are set in the 1950s because this book is written from the perspective of an Asian girl who is experiencing prejudices due to perceptions and America’s involvement in the Korean War. Although there were certain scenes that could have been written better (like the conclusion), I would still encourage others to step into Lily’s mind and life as she finds herself in “Girl in Reverse”.
Reviewed by Qadira, grade 12, Dumbarton Area Library
This review is based on an Advance Reading Copy (ARC) that publishers make available to libraries and professional reviewers before a book hits the stores. Our local Teen Galley groups read and review ARCs to discover the next big thing in teen fiction. Girl in Reverse came out in June; click here to find a copy.