Blog – Posted on Friday, Jun 11
40 Must-Read Books by Asian American and Pacific Islander Authors
The Asian American literary canon has a long and complicated history. Groundbreaking titles like Louis Chu’s Eat a Bowl of Tea (1961) and Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club (1989) have played a vital role in introducing Asian American literature to a wider audience, but have also sparked conversation about the lack of accurate and diverse representation of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) people. Contemporary work seeks to rectify stubborn stereotypes, explore the traditions and heritage of the AAPI diaspora, and provide a broader spectrum of voices which acknowledge and highlight the unique culture and stories of one of the most diverse groups in the US today.
If you think your TBR shelf can handle it, we’ve compiled a list of 40 must-read titles that inspire, educate, and entertain — covering topics as varied as transracial adoption, Alzheimer’s, and the history behind the international noodle restaurant franchise, Momofuku.
1. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Let’s kick this thing off with Viet Than Nguyen’s debut novel which earned him both a Pulitzer and a spot on The New York Times bestseller list. Not a bad start to a career (nor this list)! The Sympathizer is a fast-paced, high-octane spy novel which explores a number of terrains: consequences of the Vietnam War, identity, politics, and pop-culture America.
The Sympathizer follows a South Vietnamese army captain — a man of divided loyalties — before, during, and after the Vietnam War. Brought up by a poor Vietnamese mother and an absent French father, and educated at an American university, this unnamed and elusive narrator is “able to see any issue from both sides”. Riffing on Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Ngyuen presents a fly on the wall who observes everything without being observed back. Partly about espionage and war, and partly political and cultural commentary, this novel has found popularity across a wide pool of readers.
2. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
For those who prefer an epic family saga, Pachinko is the way to go. By exploring the impact of the cruel Japanese occupation in Korean on four generations of a Korean family, Min Jin Lee demonstrates how life can be as fickle as the luck of a pachinko machine.
The novel opens in the early 1900s, as Sunja, the teenage daughter of a local fisherman, crosses paths with a wealthy stranger — an encounter which has ripple effects that will ring out across the 20th century. At the heart of this novel is Min Jin Lee’s extraordinary sense of character and place, taking the reader on a journey of hardship and cruelty, but also of triumph and beauty.
3. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Another Pulitzer winner on this list (for her short story collection Interpreter of Maladies), Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake is above all a deep dive into the immigrant experience, culture clashes, and generational tensions that is brimming with empathy and razor-sharp insight.
From Calcutta to Cambridge, Massachusetts, The Namesake chronicles the life of the newly formed Ganguli family on American shores, and the son who will take on the peculiar Russian name, Gogol. As such, Lahiri asks the age-old question “What’s in a name?” and maps out an account of first-generation struggles, characterized by conflicting loyalties, parental hopes and expectations, and a search for identity.
4. America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo
In an intelligent and impactful ode to Carlos Bulosan’s 1946 semi-autobiographical novel America is in the Heart, Castillo turns the title on its head and explores the suburban Filipino diaspora in the contemporary Bay Area.
Through the story of Hero — whose life, body, and soul bears traces of the violent effects of the history of the Philippines, and living as an immigrant in California — Castillo tells a story about trauma, language (and how it can both include and exclude), as well as love. In the end, America Is Not the Heart shows the capacity of the human heart to house contradictions — that while America is in the heart, it is possible to make room for more.
5. On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Making a short leap from poetry to fiction, Ocean Vuong published On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous in 2019 to widespread acclaim. Staying true to his deeply evocative lyricism, he explores race, class, and masculinity in this epistolary novel with an autobiographical streak.
Little Dog is in his late 20s when he discovers a truth about his family history that stirs up some complex emotions. As he begins to write letters to his mother who cannot read, and gradually reveals hidden aspects of his life, he also goes back to explore his familial history — all leading up to one big revelation. Playing with form and content, Vuong skillfully and hauntingly captures the destructive force of being silenced, but also the deep, repairing love between a single mother and her son that is able to overcome so much.
6. Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi
Centred around a complicated relationship between two sisters, Yolk is a gut-punch of a novel, which carefully navigates themes of familial love, societal expectation, and Korean American culture. The edges may be sharp and brittle, but the centre is assuredly squishy and tender.
Yolk is told from the perspective of Jayne — the youngest sister who is living alone in New York and struggling to live up to the example that her sister Jane has set. As she goes through the motions of fashion school, deals with a toxic roommate, and continues to date her no-good boyfriend, she ignores the eating disorder that quietly controls her. Convinced that she is alone in her struggle, everything turns upside down when she receives the news that Jane is dying from uterine cancer. As Jayne’s darkest corners are explored with great care and depth, plot takes a backseat to character portrayal in this raw and unforgettable portrayal of sisterly love.
7. A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
When Sarah Jessica Parker launched her own imprint — meant to reflect her own personal taste in literature — A Place For Us was first up to bat. In a multi-generational and multi-POV story about an Indian American Muslim family in California, it delivers a compassionate portrait of a family in transition.
In this story, a wedding serves both as a point of reconnection for estranged sibling Amar, and also as a catalyst for each member of the family to reckon with the consequences of their upbringing and choices. Through each family member’s eyes, A Place For Us touches on identity, tradition, and being true to yourself, and explores how the past fits together with the present.
8. Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
If you’re looking for the book equivalent of making lemonade out of the lemons that life gives you, this is it. Goodbye, Vitamin is a sweet book about Alzheimer’s which features just enough tartness to make it sear its way into your heart.
Ruth Young is 30 and has just been dumped by the fiancé she dropped out of college for. It’s the cliché of clichés: he’s found another woman. And as if that wasn’t enough, her father, Howard — a history professor — has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Enlisted by her mother to come home and help for a year, Goodbye, Vitamin is a whimsical novel about reconnection and forgiveness.
9. A Good True Thai by Sunisa Manning
Set in the turbulent Thailand of the 1970s, A Good True Thai delivers historical fiction which is as relevant today as ever. Love, friendship, and revolution makes for an explosive combination, shedding light on a long-standing crisis in Thai politics.
The novel follows three young characters who come together and fall apart, representing three different sides of the conflict and social context. Though politics figures as a prominent part of this story, it never feels heavy, as Sunisa Manning lets plot and characters speak for themselves. With an exceptionally skillful pen, she astutely traces the tensions between class-struggle and nationalism, monarchy and democracy, as well as individualism and society.
10. The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
If you’re familiar with Julie Otsuka’s smash hit When The Emperor Was Divine, you’ll be heartened to hear she is anything but a one hit wonder. In this 2011 publication, she continues to explore (and draw important attention to) a part of American history and imperialism that is all too often overlooked.
The Buddha in the Attic is a lyrical and succinct depiction of the diverse experiences of a group of Japanese “picture brides” in the early 1900s. In eight sections, Otsuka outlines the lives of these mail-order brides as they cross the ocean towards an unknown future on foreign soil. In San Francisco, the women all face their own personal challenges and joys.
11. The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara
The success of Hanya Yanagihara’s heart-breaker A Little Life will have escaped no one’s attention, but this author has more than one string to her bow! Inspired by Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, a renowned scientist accused of child molestation (and influenced by Nabokov’s Lolita), The People in the Trees is a particularly chilling critique of western academic colonialism.
It’s 1950 and the young doctor Norton Perina has been invited to join an expedition to the remote Micronesian island of Ivu’ivu to search for a rumored lost tribe, earning him great scholarly success, but at a high personal cost. In The People In the Trees, Yanagihara excels in conveying a sense of place, taking the reader to an island steeped in magical realism. In the style of a fictionalized memoir, The People in the Trees invites the reader on an anthropological expedition, exploring the many ways power is abused.
12. This Is Paradise by Kristiana Kahakauwila
In this short story collection, Kristiana Kahakauwila — a hapa haole (mixed Hawai'ian and white) writer who grew up in California and Maui — captures the uneasy balance between Indigenous Hawai’ians and mainlanders while deconstructing the myths of the Polynesian “paradise”.
In six related stories, This Is Paradise delves into the gritty sides of island life, the guilt associated with leaving for the mainland, and all of the complex dynamics of human relationships. In “Wanle” we meet a woman who wants to become a cockfighter, in honor of her father, and in “The Old Paniolo Way”, a gay man feels more comfortable on the mainland but must return to take care of his dying father. With compassionate and honest character portrayals and a clear vision of the questions defining Hawai'ian life today, Kahakauwila shows off her versatile and insightful prose.
13. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
With this moving story about friendship, set against the backdrop of Afghanistan’s turbulent history, Hosseini shot straight to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Deeply committed to humanitarian organizations such as the UNHCR, his work crucially speaks to the resilience and beauty that humans are capable of in the midst of atrocities.
As Afghanistan is being destroyed by conflict, a friendship forms between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant. Amir and Hassan are as close as brothers, but Amir soon commits an act of betrayal that will haunt him for the rest of his life. As their paths are split in two distinct directions, Hosseini crafts a compelling and ultimately hopeful tale of redemption, fate and justice.
14. Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
Despite opinions being divided when it comes to the effect of reproducing stereotypes in the name of subversion, many say Interior Chinatown is a masterclass in thinly veiled fictionalized identity politics and pop culture commentary. If you won’t take it from us, take it from the National Book Award which gave this book the highest honor for fiction in 2020.
Written in the form of a screen-play and told from the perspective of Willis Wu who ironically doesn’t see himself as the protagonist of his own life, Yu plays with the image of the Generic Asian Man, along with characterization, setting and plot in a hilarious romp which pokes fun at tired stereotypes and depictions. Incredibly clever and highly entertaining, Interior Chinatown is cultural critique at its sharpest.
15. The Bad Muslim Discount by Syed M. Masood
Spanning almost three decades, The Bad Muslim Discount delivers a humorous yet oh-so poignant account of being a Muslim immigrant in America. With a characteristic light touch, Masood’s debut novel is as engaging as it is heartwarming.
It’s 1995 and Anvar Faris’s family has decided to emigrate from Pakistan to America as fundamentalism has increasingly strengthened its grip on domestic politics and society at large. At the same time, Safwa will embark on a very different journey from war-torn Baghdad to America. Of course, these two are destined to entangle, in this not-quite-a-love story.
16. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
When your resumé includes titles such as “novelist,” “filmmaker,” and “ordained Zen Buddhist priest”, your work is bound to cover some interesting ground. And to say that Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale For the Time Being is interesting is a vast understatement — in just over 400 pages, it manages to comment on climate change, school bullying, suicide, WWII Kamikaze pilots, Buddhism, and quantom physics in a way that feels entirely organic.
Ruth, a thinly veiled fictionalization of the author herself, lives in a cabin on a remote island in Canada with her husband. Communication with the outside world is limited, and yet, a message in a half-metaphorical bottle from the other side of the world manages to drift to Ruth’s shore. The message is from Nao, a 16-year-old girl in Japan who’s contemplating “dropping out of time.” As Ruth’s and Nao’s narratives circle each other in a spellbinding way, Ozeki wows the reader by expertly playing with the dynamics of the time-space continuum.
17. Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang
Jenny Zhang’s debut short story collection is a stunner: vibrant and bold, it recounts the experiences of Chinese-American immigrant families living together in a tenement block in Washington Heights, New York City, eking out a living in a strange and unfamiliar world.
In each story, young Asian-American women take the stage, as Zhang centers their oft-silenced perspectives and voices. Though the girls face different struggles — at any given moment, one might be forced to return to ESL, while the other might be moving from one cockroach-infested hovel to another — they are all complicatedly connected, growing up as second generation Chinese-Americans in 1990s New York.
18. Exhalation by Ted Chiang
Author of the revelatory short story that inspired Hollywood blockbuster Arrival, Ted Chiang returned to the scene in 2019 with a sophomore hit that (we would posit) is even better than his debut. Exhalation is that short story collection that — quite aptly, for its title — will take your breath away.
Its sci-fi short stories cover a stunning amount of time and space, taking you from ancient Baghdad to the far-flung reaches of outer space in the blink of an eye. Mind-bogglingly original and daringly ambitious as it tackles big questions head-on, Exhalation presents science fiction at its best and most thoughtful. And if you don’t trust us, you can trust Barack Obama, who put it on his list of best summer 2019 reads.
19. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
In 2011, Ken Liu’s groundbreaking short story “Paper Menagerie” became the first work of fiction to ever sweep the Hugo, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy Award. But The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories isn’t just a standout read because of its magnificent titular piece. It also houses all of Liu’s other award-winning speculative fiction stories, from the sci-fi manga inspired “Mono No Aware” to “The Waves,” where a colony of humans are travelling to a new earth and are confronted with the possibility of immortality.
Intelligently written and Asian-inspired, Liu's tales often deal with the clash between elements of Eastern and Western culture, language, and upbringing in startlingly profound ways. If you fancy a taster before committing to the entire collection, we recommend starting out with “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” and, of course, “Paper Menagerie.”
20. The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
Scattered and eccentric, this controversial collection of vignettes and memoir-style essays has remained a staple of Asian American literature since its first publication in 1976. Through a mixture of biographical accounts and Cantonese mythology which straddles the line of fiction and non-fiction, it explores Maxine Hong Kingston’s own identity as a first-generation Chinese American woman, as well as the women who have had the biggest impact on her life.
In five interconnected chapters which read like short stories, The Woman Warrior begins with the tale of the No-Name Woman — Kingston’s aunt who was shunned for having a child out of wedlock — and continues with her mother’s retelling of the story of Fa Mu Lan, the woman warrior who went to war in the place of her father.
21. Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong
Like The Woman Warrior, Minor Feelings blends genres and influences, combining memoir with cultural criticism. Cathy Hong Park, an essayist and poet, goes back to her childhood and adult experiences to explore racial consciousness in contemporary America. Growing up, she has been taught to disregard her own experiences as part of a minority and question the validity of her own feelings of being discriminated against. Later on in life, she faces the contradicting expectations that people had for female Asian American creatives, who are supposed to be producing narratives of racial trauma while also conforming to the idea of the silent and docile Asian woman.
Forthright and even a tad indignant, Hong's book presents a compelling theory explaining 'minor feelings' and the severity of gaslighting.
22. The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays by Esmé Weijun Wang
In a vulnerable and insightful collection of essays, Wang reflects on her extraordinary life as well as her experiences with Schizophrenia and the medical community.
Talking about schizophrenia both in the broader and more narrow, personal sense, The Collected Schizophrenia discusses how various the symptoms can be, how this complicates getting a diagnosis, and dispels myths about what it is like to live with. More than that though, as Wang turns her analytical gaze back onto herself, she makes space for a moving, complex, and honest look into her mind and life — making her book a vital addition to our ongoing conversation about mental health.
23. Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
Based on her viral essay in the New Yorker, Crying in H Mart is Michelle Zauner’s extended reckoning with the complicated relationship she has with her mother in the aftermath of her death. Some might also recognize the author from the Indie rock solo project, Japanese Breakfast.
With a Korean mother and a white American father, Zauner structures her memoir around identity and Korean food — the red thread that binds both the book and the often fraught mother-daughter relationship together. Following her mother’s cancer diagnosis, her need to find her way back to her own Koreanness, through subscribing to popular food YouTubers like Maangchi, takes on new proportions. Told in a clear and frank voice, the memoir shines as a powerful account of the inevitable pain of loss.
24. The Groom Will Keep His Name by Matt Ortile
In a refreshingly funny and witty voice, Matt Ortile delivers an inside look at the world of affluent America as encountered by a young gay Filipino American via this collection of sharp essays.
Making the move from Manila to Las Vegas at the age of 12, Ortile quickly learned that the locals struggled to pronounce his name. In order to fit into white American society, he began to shed his Filipino identity. And though he eventually married a white American man, his experiences and missadventures, from Grindr to Vassar college, ultimately provide a petri dish for questions about sex, power, and living at the intersection of minority identities. And in the end, the groom will reclaim his name.
25. Good Talk by Mira Jacob
Following the huge success of her BuzzFeed article where Jacob attempted to answer 37 difficult questions from her son, Good Talk is the memories of this mother-and-son duo, recorded into a comic book. It’s as touching and insightful as it is giggle-inducing.
As a first-generation American born to parents who migrated there from India, Jacob has long experienced the complexities of her hybrid identity. But as she becomes a mother to a son with a white father, Jacob finds herself having to address the unavoidable questions pertaining to race, love, and even politics that arises with her son’s inquisitive mind. As Zakir develops an obsession with Michael Jackson and tries to make heads and tails of the America he is growing up in, Jacob realizes with resounding clarity that what they’re living in is an America vastly different from the image that Jacob was taught to believe in.
26. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden
A redemptive but unapologetic memoir of a childhood characterized by two extremes — privilege and co-addiction — T Kira Madden’s remarkable LGBTQ book, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, was a deserving finalist for the LAMBDA Literary Award.
Coming of age as queer and biracial in Boca Raton, Florida, Madden lived a childhood that was at once one of extravagant privilege and defined by parental absence. Behind the facade of designer labels and perfectly mowed laws hid a truth of drug-addiction and rampant instability. And while her father’s death is a looming presence throughout the memoir, there is a deep and tender thread of love that culminates in Madden’s Kuleana (sacred duty) towards her mother. Between the experiences of her queerness, her race, and of growing up female in a culture of assault and objectification, Madden ultimately finds solace in the love and friendships of other fatherless girls.
27. Eat a Peach by David Chang
Lovers of Momofuku, of Ugly Delicious on Netflix, or of plain good Asian food, you won’t want to miss this: the celebrity chef behind the Momofuku restaurant empire has written a tell-all memoir for you to feast your eyes on.
Eat a Peach tells David Chang’s inspiring life story, from his humble beginnings growing up in Virginia as the son of Korean immigrants to his astronomical rise to fame in the past decade (complete with two Michelin stars). The journey was far from easy, and he’d had to face his own demons — his uncontrolled temper and moments of crippling self-doubt — in order to achieve his goal of opening the perfect restaurant. Throughout all of his ups and downs, the one constant was food, for which he shares his deep love within these pages.
28. Fairest by Meredith Talusan
Meredith Talusan’s formative years were anything but ordinary. From the Philippines to the United States, from a small village to Harvard, from boyhood to womanhood, she has navigated many of the trickiest borders — both literally and metaphorically.
Born an albino boy in the Philippines, Meredith came to the U.S. passing as white. But, like her memoir, she continued to defy easy categorization and struggled to reconcile her identity as a white gay male and later trans woman. Fairest documents her moving journey towards self-identity, cross-examining the intersection of race, gender, sexuality, and culture with a candor that borders on painful.
29. Not Quite Not White by Sharmila Sen
From the Editorial Director of Harvard University Press, Not Quite Not White is a razor sharp commentary on arbitrary racial categories, sparked by Sen’s own experience of not quite fitting into any of them.
Growing up in Calcutta, India, Sen moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, when she was 12. Faced with an endless stream of paperwork which asked her to “self-report” her race, she felt an acute sense of alienation. She’d go on to reject the racial label she was assigned, only to realize that her experiences of being “not quite white” stem from a larger misconception of what it means to be “American”. As an expert in postcolonial literature and culture, Sen blends professional insights with personal reflections on topics such as passing, cultural appropriation, and class inequality to create a book that’s informative in more than one way.
30. The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
Trust us when we say that the best you could do right now is to pick up Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do. Acclaimed by all corners of the literary world when it was published in 2017, this beautifully illustrated graphic novel pulls back the curtain on the plight of the Vietnamese refugees in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.
The Best We Could Do is powerfully evocative of a time and a place, taking you on the journey of the escape of the author's family from South Vietnam. In Thi Bui’s gentle hands, it becomes a thought-provoking tour de force that explores the grief of immigration, familial love, the meaning of home — and how one’s search for a better future is, as often is the case for immigrant families, tied inextricably to the past.
31. All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
After writing several shorter essays on the topic of transracial adoption, Chung decided that she needed a wider scope to do full justice to a complex topic and to her own personal history. All You Can Ever Know is the lauded result, which sees the author go on a search for her birth parents, while getting ever-closer to becoming a mother herself.
The entire time Chung was growing up in a white family in Oregon, her adoption was presented to her as the ultimate sacrifice — her Korean birth parents’ selfless desire to give her, a prematurely born baby, a better life. But transracial adoption is far from uncomplicated. Facing prejudice invisible to her own family and out of touch with her roots, Chung had to contemplate what it means to belong — and she’s recorded this process with warmth and candor right here in this memoir.
32. Know My Name by Chanel Miller
Before the #MeToo movement shone it’s light on assault, harrassment, and abuse of power in Hollywood, Chanel Miller’s victim impact statement, in what became known as the Stanford Assault Case, sparked international debates around sexual assault and rape culture. In Know My Name, she sheds the alias of Emily Doe and reclaims her own history.
Recounting the trauma of the assault and the subsequent trial, Miller eloquently and powerfully describes feelings of shame, isolation, and vulnerability — thereby highlighting a system and culture which protects the perpetrator instead of the victim. But this is also a triumphant account of healing and Miller’s celebration of her own personhood, making it one of the most defining texts of the 2010s.
Children’s and YA
33. I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn
Sarah Kuhn is perhaps more well-known for her Heroine Complex series, featuring Asian American female superheroes — but she’s also got a treat for readers with an extra sweet tooth, and it’s none other than I Love You So Mochi.
Kimi Nakamura is an aspiring fashion designer whose dreams do not seem to align with her mother’s idea of a stable future. As chance would have it, one of their terrible fights is succeeded by an email inviting her to spend spring break in Japan with her estranged grandparents. Through cultural differences and similarities, and with the exciting new companionship of a cute Mochi-clad mascot/aspiring medical student, Kimi might come to understand her mother and herself a bit better.
34. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
The inspiration behind Netflix’s Mismatched, When Dimple Met Rishi is a sweet YA romance á la Pride and Prejudice. Well, sort of. You’ll have to read it yourself to find out how Sandya Menon takes the enemies-to-lovers trope, twists it, and delivers character growth and a realistic love story that deals with second-generation teenage experiences.
Dimple has just graduated high school and is beyond excited to go to a summer programme for aspiring developers. It’s just a tiny bit suspicious that her parents suddenly agreed to pay for it and that the boy they’re trying to set her up with happens to be going too. With misunderstandings piling up, the created-by-fate circumstances that constantly push the protagonists together leave just about enough space for something like first love to arise.
35. Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay
Raw and unflinching, this National Book Award finalist is a coming-of-age story about a young American Filipino teenager seeking to uncover the truth about his cousin he hadn’t met for a very long time.
In the summer between graduation and college, Jay Reguero receives the strange news that his cousin Jun has been killed in the Philippines as part of president Duterte’s war on drugs. With everything shrouded in thick layers of silence and taboo, Jay decides to take matters into his own hands and travels to the Philippines to find out what happened. But as often happens when you go digging, he’s bound to find more than he bargained for.
36. Amina's Voice by Hena Khan
Hena Khan’s children’s literature has won many an award, not least for her middle grade series Amina’s Voice — a series about being torn between wanting to fit in and finding your own voice.
In the first book, Amina, a Pakistani American Muslim girl, is trying to make as few waves as possible at school, while also balancing her vibrant family culture. Comfortable to float under the radar, she just wants to fit in and hang out with her friend Soojin, but Soojin has started spending time with popular girl Emily and is contemplating changing her name to something more “American,” making Amina wonder if she also needs to change. When someone vandalizes her local mosque, Amina’s quest to understand her identity becomes that much more complicated.
37. Front Desk by Kelly Yang
As a New York Times bestselling author, Yang sure knows how to deliver relatable and poignant middle grade literature! With the Front Desk series, she won the 2019 Asian Pacific American Award for Children's Literature and cemented herself as an author to watch on the children’s literature scene.
Far deeper and more complex than the playful cover art might suggest, Front Desk is the story of Mia Tang and all her secrets. And she has a lot of them. For instance, she’s lying about where she lives (in a motel, not a big house); she’s lying about the people her parents let stay with them (immigrants); and she’s lying about what she wants to do with her life (become a writer). Combining fiction with auto-biographical elements, Front Desk takes a powerful stance for kindness and courage in the face of hate and prejudice.
38. We Are Not Free by Traci Chee
Another New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist, Chee’s un-put-downable We Are Not Free is the YA novel equivalent to Julie Otsuka’s When The Emperor Was Divine, telling the story of a group of 14 teenagers living in the Japanese internment camps during WWII.
We Are Not Free is a collective account of an oft-neglected period in American history, where second-generation Japanese Americans were not recognized by the legal system as full citizens. With depth and care, Chee gives unique life and voice to each member of the cast and captures the importance of solidarity in the fight against racism and injustice.
39. Stargazing by Jen Wang
In this graphic novel with a magical twist, Wang draws from her own childhood experiences to paint an exquisitely vivid and heartfelt picture of friendship in a Chinese American suburb.
Christine makes an unexpected friend when Moon’s family moves in next door. Together, they fantasize about the future and share their innermost secrets, like how Moon gets visions of celestial beings. The beings are speaking from the stars and they’re saying that Moon doesn’t really belong on earth. But how can Christine face a world without Moon? With Wang’s confident art style, her words and pictures collaborate to communicate volumes about what it means to be a good friend, about trust, and about embracing differences.
40. When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo
This stand-alone novella by Vo — the second installment of The Singing Hills Cycle — is YA high fantasy at its most magical and mystical. Weaving tales into tales, this is partly a love story between a scholar and a talking tiger, partly an invitation to consider how the perspective of the storyteller affects the story itself.
Combining elegance and whimsy, When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain continues the story of Chih, the cleric from The Empress of Salt and Fortune, as they and their companions are held captive by a gang of ravenous tigers. Like in Thousand and One Nights, Chih must tell the story of scholar Dieu and the tiger Ho Thi Thao to save their skin. Except the tigers keep interrupting with their version of the story, claiming that the Singing Hill archives and the humans got it all wrong. The multiplicity of the cleric’s and the tiger’s versions of this myth makes for an entertaining and fascinating book, even when it’s read on its own.
Looking for more inspiring titles to inhabit your shelves? Check out our list of children's books about diversity and this list of the 40 best Native American authors to read in 2021!