Local Author, Barbara Stuber, Talks about her Latest Young Adult Novel, Girl In Reverse.
May 04, 2014
Since Girl in Reverse hasn’t hit library shelves yet, I haven’t had a chance to read it. Would you give us a hint about the story?
Ever since age four, when Lily joined the Firestone household, she has wondered why her parents adopted her. When the Korean War starts, Lily, who is the only Asian student in her school, endures bullying in the name of patriotism. She discovers she can no longer “make a joke of it,” as her parents advise. Lily’s determination to resist this prejudice sparks a search for her true creation story, her core identity. The search brings her to the art museum where she becomes a Monuments Woman in her own right, rescuing the secrets of her hidden past. Support comes to Lily in unexpected ways: art student Elliot, whose knack for caricature provides a potent weapon; Mr. Howard, the African-American school janitor; Mr. and Mrs. Chow, whose “foresight and guts” have brought them success; and, Lily’s intrepid younger brother Ralph. Girl in Reverse is a story of self-discovery and inner resilience.
Your first novel, Crossing the Tracks, and your newest one are both historical fiction. How do you choose when and where to place your stories in history?
Crossing the Tracks was inspired by my mother’s life and so I set the story during the years she was a young girl. Girl in Reverse deals with the themes of prejudice, war, and adoption so I selected a year when these issues would be at a fever pitch – 1951 - the year the Communist Chinese entered the Korean War. It was a period (like so many others - even now) when fear was high and racism too easily tolerated.
According to your website, Chinese artifacts play a large role in unraveling the mystery of how Lily was really adopted in Girl in Reverse. Are the artifacts in the story based on real ones? Where did you find your inspiration?
Definitely. As a docent at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, I am in love with our legendary Chinese art collection. I became fascinated by the contrast between these sublime artifacts from a fascinating, many thousands-year-old culture and the U.S. conception promoted during the Korean War of the Chinese (who had been our allies during World War II) as commie, war mongers ready to take over the free world.
I'm sure that you draw from your own life to make Lily’s experience as a teen-aged girl realistic, but was it difficult to create a character of Chinese descent? How did you gain insights into her unique point of view?
I gained enormous insight from listening to the struggles and triumphs of my daughter-in-law who is of Asian descent. I also sought out Chinese-American women who were incredibly candid in sharing how they have managed their ethnicity in the U.S. My background as a family therapist also guided me through many of the dynamics of secrecy, guilt, and strength within Lily’s two families.
You’ve said of your first novel that you didn’t set out to write a book for teens, you wanted to write a story that anyone would like to read. Did you approach Girl in Reverse any differently?
In both cases, I wrote a book I would like to read! I consider my books to be “crossover” novels. If the themes within the story are universal and timeless the reader's age shouldn’t be limited. It's a false boundary that thwarts a golden opportunity for mutual understanding and discussion across the generations.
Would you call Girl in Reverse a coming-of-age story, a mystery, a romance…?
All three! Well, thanks for piquing our curiosity about Girl in Reverse! I’m looking forward to putting it on my summer reading list. What’s your launch date?
May 13, 2014. The Nelson-Atkins Museum is having a free program on May 23 from 6 – 7:30 p.m. to launch Girl in Reverse where we'll be giving “Novel Art Tours” of all the artworks that are in the story. Pretty cool!
VERY cool! Thanks, Barb.
The event at the Nelson is free, but tickets are required. For all the information you need, click on the link above, then go to "Talks/Events" and scroll down the museum's page. Then get your name on the holds list here at MCPL for Girl in Reverse!