In 20 years as a docent at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, Mission Hills resident Barbara Stuber has become intimately familiar with the beautiful objects in the museum’s renowned Chinese art collection.There are the delicate miniature slippers from the Sui Dynasty. The beautiful sculpture of Guanyin of the Southern Sea. And an ornate carved disc used in rituals with the intricate dragons along its rim.
These objects and the Nelson itself all figure prominently into Stuber’s second book, Girl in Reverse, published this month by Margaret K. McElderry Books. The book tells the story of Lily, an Asian girl adopted by a family who raise her in Kansas City at the height of the anti-Chinese fanaticism of the Korean War.
“She has no knowledge of her Chinese history,” Stuber said. “This is a time where the all the richness of that culture has been pulled down to, ‘They are our mortal enemies.’ And she feels it as school where she endures horrible treatment.”
When Lily and her brother find a box of Chinese objects in their attic, they head to the Nelson and try to make sense of what they’ve found. That act sets Lily on a path of self discovery where she learns about her heritage and her biological family.
Stuber said the idea for the book came from spending so much time in the Nelson’s Chinese art collection — “The art really gets under your skin,” she said. “The Chinese culture and art collection is one of the best in the world” — but that it took a couple of years for the idea to fully form, and another three to write it.
Stuber, who became a finalist for the William C. Morris Debut Award for her first book, Crossing the Tracks, classifies her latest work as a “cross-over novel,” that she thinks has appeal for young adults and older readers as well.
There will be two book release parties in the Kansas City area for “Girl in Reverse.” The first will be at Rainy Day Books this Thursday, May 15 at 6:30 p.m. The second will be at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art on Friday, May 23 at 6 p.m.