*Please note: This blog post was written a while ago. My thoughts, opinions, and writing skills have changed since then. Any posts written before 2020 should be assumed to not fully reflect my current thoughts, opinions, and writing capabilities unless otherwise stated. If you would like clarification on my thoughts/opinions about any specific points mentioned in this post, feel free to reach out to me.*
Happy February! Lunar New Year is just around the corner and I thought I’d show some appreciation for my culture by sharing some books that talk about the Asian and Asian-American experiences. Diversity is a big topic right now, and although there’s definitely room to improve, I feel like the book industry is not very discriminatory compared to other industries and I was lucky to find quite a few books about Asians growing up. It’s definitely important to have representation for different races and cultures because everyone deserves to be able to connect to characters in books, and reading about people having the same experiences with race can take away a lot of loneliness that comes with being a minority. The books I’m sharing with you today range from YA to Adult to Children’s books. I feel it’s important to include Children’s books in this list as well since they were such a big part of my growth as both a reader and a person.
1. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
Girl in Translation is a book that details the struggles and triumphs of a girl named Kimberly, who moves to Brooklyn with her mother and has to work in a sweatshop to try and overcome poverty. This was probably the first book I read that actually focused on the immigrant experience. I remember finding this book in my cousin’s room when we went to visit my family in China, and read the entire book in one night. It’s a really enlightening book, because when I read this in 6th grade, I hadn’t known what life could be like for immigrants. It’s a really poignant, authentic story that everyone should read.
2. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
If you haven’t read this book yet, GET ON THE TRAIN! I’ve been hearing about this book for years, but didn’t pick it up until I watched the movie (which is AMAZING), and now I regret not reading it sooner. The book is hilarious but explores really real themes like discrimination and the conflict between Asians and Asian-Americans, which is never really talked about. Even though not everyone can relate to the “Crazy Rich” aspect–which is super fun to read about–there’s something for everyone to connect to, with messages about love and family. Also, not to get too deep into my love for the movie, but every time I think about how Asians finally got their moment in the film industry, I feel so happy. I haven’t read the next two books in the trilogy yet (China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems), but I definitely plan to!
3. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
The feel-good To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy doesn’t focus around being Asian, but I love that it shows that “Asian” can just be a normal part of who you are, and that it’s part of your life and identity and doesn’t have to be this huge thing. Lara Jean Song Covey is half-Korean, and that’s definitely part of her identity without having to be the focus of the book. I love some of the small quotidian aspects that Jenny added in, such as the struggles of Halloween for Asians, and different Asian snacks we get to enjoy that white people don’t know about. TATBILB is actually one of my favorite YA books, and you can read my full review here!
4. The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
The Sun is Also a Star is a YA novel about a Jamaican girl and a Korean-American boy who meet by chance and get to spend a short amount of time together. I really loved this book’s exploration of expectations set on Asian-American kids and the pressures they may face from their family to be hardworking and a good student so their parents’ difficult journeys can be worth it. There’s definitely a lot of lessons that can be learned from the book, especially for people who don’t know what that can be like.
5. Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh
Flame in the Mist is part of a duology (the second book is called Smoke in the Sun). This isn’t really about the Asian experience, but it’s a really great fantasy book about imperial Japan. I think it’s really cool that Renée decided to write this, because I did not know a lot about Japanese mythology or imperial Japan, and I think it’s so cool to have that represented in American literature!
6. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Typically when you think of “Asian,” you think about East Asia and countries like China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, etc. Most people don’t consider countries such as Afghanistan, which is sad, because it’s very important to tell their stories too. The Kite Runner is a masterpiece of a book, but heartbreaking. It tells the story of a boy named Amir and his experience growing up into an adult over the span of thirty years, and the changes that Afghanistan went through in that period. It’s a really important book to read, and I learned a lot from it.
1. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Listen…this book shook my entire world when I read it back in fifth grade. Grace Lin weaves an amazing, multi-layered tale of a Chinese girl named Minli who goes on a journey to find the Old Man of the Moon. The book is full of different Chinese folklore that just come to life in your imagination when you read it. There’s also two companion books: Starry River of the Sky (which is also amazing) and When the Sea Turned to Silver (which I had no idea existed until now but is sure to be incredible as well!)
2. The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin
Okay, I had to add this book because it’s just so fitting for Chinese New Year. This book is aimed for kids and it’s a great story about a girl named Pacy and the changes that come with growing up, on top of being an Asian-American. It really explores the themes of self-identity, friendship, family, and culture. There’s two more books in this series as well, The Year of the Rat and Dumpling Days!
3. Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
This book focuses on a Vietnamese girl named Hà and her experience having to flee Saigon to America. It’s written in poem form and is a really beautiful book that taught me a lot about the Vietnam War, which I really didn’t have any idea about at the time. The writing is so nuanced and poignant, and a great read!
4. The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang
This is another great book that really explores the Asian-American experience and the struggles of navigating your identity as you grow up. Lucy Wu’s great-aunt comes to stay with their family and Lucy has to learn how to reconcile this with her idea of a perfect year.
5. Good Luck, Ivy by Lisa Yee
This American Girl book was so important to me because I loved having an American Girl who was actually Asian. I enjoyed reading about Ivy’s everyday life and her relationship with her family members, because I could really relate to the joys and excitement that comes with having a big extended family.
6. Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee
In this book, Lisa Yee writes a really great story about Millie’s experience being an extremely smart 11-year-old. The idea of a “smart Asian” may seem stereotypical, but this book is really not. Instead, it explores how lonely it can be to be an Asian American, as well as “different” in other ways (such as intelligence) compared to your peers. I could definitely relate to a lot of aspects, such as the social awkwardness of being a minority. This book is part of a trilogy, and it’s followed by Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time and So Totally Emily Ebers.
7. Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr
I’m sure if you haven’t read this book before, you must have at least heard of it. It tells the inspirational story of Sadako Sasaki, a real girl who had leukemia from the Hiroshima bombing. She learns that folding a thousand paper cranes will make a sick person healthy again, so she aims to do that even while getting sicker and sicker.
8. When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park
This historical fiction book is about a Korean family living under Japanese occupation during World War II. It taught me a lot of things I had no idea about, and it’s really important to read different perspectives of people who went through experiences you didn’t have to go through.
9. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
As you can tell from the title, this graphic novel really revolves around what it’s like to be Asian-American and trying to come to terms with what that means. There’s three connected storylines: one with Jin Wang, an Asian-American who just wants to fit in; the legend of the Monkey King, a traditional Chinese story; Chin-Kee, a living representation of Chinese stereotypes. There’s a lot of lessons to be learned from this book, the biggest one being to be proud of who you are and your roots, whether as an Asian or something else.
I really hope you guys try some of these books out! It’s so important to have books with diversity and these are just some of the great ones out there. One of my goals for myself is to intentionally read more books about Asians and the Asian experience. Are there any Asian books you’ve read that you’d like to share? Comment below!