A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Girl in Reverse takes place in 1951 in Kansas City during the Korean War, so readers will pick up on some 1950s culture. Readers will also learn about the prejudice Chinese-Americans experienced during the Chinese invasion of Korea, as well as some Chinese history when Lily explores her own and her birth mother's history. References to art pieces such as Picasso's "Girl in a Mirror" and Rodin's "The Thinker" are used as metaphors for Lily's experiences.
Don't let others' prejudice against you affect your own self-image. The truth is worth exploring, even if it's painful. Family is family, whether they're related by blood or not.
Positive Role Models
Lily lies to her parents and is rude to a boy who likes her, but her mistakes are born out of insecurity and self-doubt. She's self-aware enough that she always tries to fix her imperfections and to treat the people around her as she would like to be treated, and she eventually learns to stand up for herself. Her younger brother is Lily's staunch supporter, and his loyalty never wavers, even when his classmates make fun of him for having a Chinese sister. Adults are portrayed as imperfect people with problems of their own that they don't necessarily know how to solve.
Sex, Romance & Nudity
A couple of kisses.
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Ethnic slurs "Chink," "Chinaman," "Jap," "ching-chong," and "Commie," used as an insult.
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Products & Purchases
Tangee lipstick, candy brands Bit-O-Honey and Necco wafers, Kleenex, Coke, Keds.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Lily's dad smokes cigarettes, and there's an ashtray in the living room. Lily's mom smokes cigarettes when she's worried.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Girl in Reverse is about an adopted girl whose birth mother was Chinese and whose adoptive parents are white. In 1951, during the Korean War, Lily's classmates are blatantly racist, and the teachers do nothing to stop it -- even Lily's parents are reluctant to acknowledge the pain she experiences. However, with the help of her brother, a new friend, and the school's wise African-American custodian, Lily finds the strength to stand up for herself and accept her past and her Chinese heritage.
Is It Any Good?
The effects of the Korean War in America is not much documented in juvenile historical fiction, and that in itself makes GIRL IN REVERSE interesting. It also might be the first YA novel to explore the racism against the Chinese during that time. But more than a treatise against prejudice, Lily's attempts at uncovering the truth about her birth mother's past and thus gaining an understanding of herself will be relatable to any teen.
Lily's awkwardness, and her own awareness of that awkwardness, is charming and realistic. The wise African-American janitor who just happens to be an expert Chinese chef is perhaps too good to be true, but he offers a perspective on self-acceptance that Lily is unable to get from her family. The slight bit of romance and the gradual uncovering of the mystery of her birth parents add excitement to this introspective story.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.