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Girl in Reverse
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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.
What's the story?
It's 1951 and the Korean War is in full swing, the Chinese having just added their strength to Communist North Korea's fight against the U.S.-supported South Korea. When one of Lily's classmates presents a class project that is blatantly racist against Chinese people and the teacher does nothing, Lily's humiliation serves as a catalyst for her to dig up information about her birth mother and her Chinese heritage. Her white adoptive parents' unwillingness to talk about her past adds to her frustration and feelings of isolation. But with the help of her loyal younger brother, Lily begins to solve the mysteries of her past. The sage advice of the school's African-American custodian teaches Lily not to turn others' prejudice against herself, and the romantic interest of a nonconformist artist boy at school propels Lily's search forward even further.
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the media attention given to the need for children's books with diverse characters. How do you think books like Girl in Reverse fits into that discussion? Do you think books about non-white characters must necessarily explore racism?
How is this book different from other books or movies about racism in the 1950s? How is it similar?
How do you think the lack of today's technology affects Lily's search for her birth mother? How would her situation have turned out differently if she were searching for her birth mother today?
Themes & Topics
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