Girl in Reverse by Barbara Stuber
Lily can just barely remember her “Gone Mom” as she calls her birth mother. She was adopted by her family when she was three years old. All she knows is that her mother gave her up for adoption and then disappeared and has never been heard from since then. With the Korean War brewing, Lily is the target of many “commie” jokes because of her Asian heritage. Her parents don’t take the targeting seriously, encouraging her to ignore it. When her little brother finds a box from Lily’s Gone Mom hidden in their attic, Lily suddenly has clues to follow about her mother. She heads back to the orphanage that she was adopted from and finds one of the nuns who cared for her while she was there. The nun has one last item from Lily’s mother that she has kept safe for years, which she gives to Lily, a fragile glass slipper. As Lily and her brother begin to piece together Lily’s past, her present continues to interfere with the racial jokes getting more overt and a boy at school showing real interest in Lily as something more than a friend. Lily must balance finding out about her past with her dreams for the future and learning to live with parents who lied to her about what had happened.
Stuber very successfully combines historical fiction with diversity in this novel. Set in the 1950s, Lily struggles with how to react as racism becomes the norm during her school day. Lily finds support with a janitor at the school while she is serving detention for leaving school grounds after being bullied. He is a warm and wonderful African-American character who can speak and put words to what Lily is going through.
The characters in the book are all robustly written and fully explored. Even Lily’s dysfunctional parents have depth to them, reasons for their deceit, and the ability to learn and change. Stuber’s prose is lovely, walking us through emotions and moments in a beautiful way. Here is how she describes Lily’s mother on Page 208:
My father may wear the pants in the family, but Mother wears the perfume – her mood reigns, soaks everything, rules the day, the night, and everything in between. But at this moment I cannot sniff her mood.
Beautifully written with complex characters, this middle school book takes us into history on a personal level. Appropriate for ages 11-13.
Reviewed from copy received from Margaret K. McElderry Books.