Novel ‘Girl in Reverse’ features KC’s Nelson-Atkins art museum

05/15/2014 12:14 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

It’s Kansas City in the early 1950s, and Lily is the only Chinese girl in her high school.

This is during the Korean War and, after being bullied one day by classmates, Lily stomps off and finds herself on a bench outside the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

Born in San Francisco, Lily had been brought to Kansas City as a toddler and placed in an orphanage. Her adoptive Kansas City parents urge her not to “live in reverse” — hence the title of “Girl in Reverse,” a young adult novel by Barbara Stuber.

“Lily’s mind is piqued by what she sees inside the Nelson,” said Stuber, referring to the museum’s world-class collection of Chinese art. “It’s not about war-mongering but about genius and compassion.”

Many of the artworks on exhibit help Lily puzzle out her own back story, and this week readers can follow Lily’s path through the museum. Stuber, who has served as a Nelson docent for 25 years, this Friday hosts a reading that includes docents stationed at various artworks that figure in the novel.

The event begins at 6 p.m. Tickets are free, but you need to sign up. Go to or call 816-751-1278.

Breaking down closed doors

Kimberla Lawson Roby always knew her husband loved her.

Then he dipped into his own 401(k) retirement fund to help finance her writing career. He urged her to quit her day job as a financial analyst for the city of Rockford, Ill.

She had to give it 100 percent to do it right, he told her.

“He said, ‘Do you really want to go the next 10 years without knowing if you could do this?’” Roby said recently.

Working nights for seven months in 1995, Roby completed her first novel and collected the usual rejection slips. But her spouse urged Roby to use her business background to establish her own company and self-publish that first book, called “Behind Closed Doors.”

Today Roby has sold more than 2 million copies of her novels. Six times she has received the Author of the Year-Female award presented by the African-American Literary Award Show in New York.

“I had already decided to move on and try something else,” Roby said. “But he believed in my writing, and I’m so glad that he did.”

Roby speaks at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St. For information go to

To reach Brian Burnes, call 816-234-4120 or send email to

Join the Discussion

The Kansas City Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Terms of Service