The AAPI — Asian American Pacific Islander — Community isn’t a monolith, and the community’s voices always have a lot to say. But May is AAPI Heritage Month, and we’ve put together a list of 18 books written by a vibrant range of AAPI voices for readers of all ages. From names you’ll recognize immediately to discoveries we don’t want you to miss, these are our must-reads for right now: historical novels for adults and young readers that redefine the American West, contemporary novels of family and ambition, love and loss, an unforgettable satire and a thriller with echoes of John le Carré, unforgettable memoirs (one blended with incisive cultural criticism), a definitive history, and a wonderous picture book.
Sanjena Sathian’s brilliantly original debut follows first-generation Indian immigrant neighbors Neil and Anita as they straddle the line between their ambitions and their parents’ pursuit of the American dream — all with a touch of magic. Anita has her sights set on Harvard and Neil has his sights set on making it through his summer math class and, well, Anita. One summer night, he discovers the secret to Anita’s recent successes; it’s pure gold and he wants in. What happens next in this page-turning debut is all at once mystical, tragic and, at times, pretty funny.
My Year Abroad
A journey of self-discovery and adventure from one of the great novelists of our time. Set in multiple periods, My Year Abroad is the story of Tiller, a young, naïve college student who discovers both the joys and, sometimes bleak, realities of the world on a life-changing trip. So, you’re looking for a good, enjoyable book where the pages just fly by? Read this.
Things We Lost to the Water
Things We Lost to the Water is a mesmerizing debut of familial bonds, assimilation and home that centers around an immigrant Vietnamese family. Separated from her husband, Huong must figure out how to make a life for herself and her two young sons in New Orleans while coming to terms with the fact that her life will never be as she imagined. The family adapts to American life in ways that threaten to cause a rift between them, and it is only when Hurricane Katrina devastates their new home city that they find their way back to one another.
Generic Asian man, Willis Wu, yearns to be something more than what life has laid out for him and strives to do just that throughout Interior Chinatown. Yu has a poet’s voice that lends a lyrical quality to Wu’s heartfelt journey to become Kung Fu Guy, and at the same time, paints a symbolic and sharp portrait of the Asian American experience. This sharp satire also won the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction. “The lacerating humor in Interior Chinatown never skips a beat.”—Jeff VanderMeer, author of Annihilation
The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu
Tom Lin centers our vision to a time and place long forgotten but forever burned into our collective memory: The American West. The landscape is brutal, the whiskey might as well be for medicinal purposes only, guns are drawn, and the desert holds magic and horror. There is action, adventure and some very curious scenes throughout. We loved this novel. It is as poetic as it is profane.
No one captures the moment when before flips into after as elegantly as Jhumpa Lahiri. From her Pulitzer Prize-winning debut story collection, The Interpreter of Maladies to the winsome and heartbreaking novel The Namesake, plenty of us have lost ourselves her sublime, and often wry, stories of family. But her newest novel, Whereabouts, her first in ten years, is an absolute tour de force. Written first in Italian and then translated into English by Lahiri herself, this deceptive slim novel slips through time and memory to tell a luminous and indelible story of love and loss, grief and transformation that speaks perfect to our shared moment.
Free Food for Millionaires
Min Jin Lee
We all know a Casey Lee (or maybe we’ve even been Casey Lee), smart and stubborn, knows what she wants but isn’t quite there, and really can’t afford the life she wants in NYC. This is a dazzling coming-of-age story, a scathing look at class in America, an heir to Middlemarch and Edith Wharton and The Great Gatsby, written with a swing and a snap that will keep you turning pages deep into the night (and sighing with recognition) — and oh, it’s also the debut novel from Min Jin Lee, the acclaimed author of the bestselling National Book Award Finalist, Pachinko.
How Much of These Hills Is Gold: A Novel
C Pam Zhang
Epic in scope while intimate in detail, C Pam Zhang’s story of two siblings in a gold rush mining town beautifully blends Chinese symbolism with reimagined history. Exploring issues of race in an expanding country, questions of belonging and home are at the heart of this outstanding debut. “This novel is at once a thrilling adventure, a tender coming-of-age story, an excavation of the corrosive myth-making surrounding the American west, and the arrival of a major literary talent.” —Esquire
Yolk (Barnes & Noble YA Book Club Edition)
Mary H. K. Choi
Wildly different sisters Jayne and June Baek have been avoiding each other for years. Then June is diagnosed with cancer and finds herself reaching out to her estranged little sister for support. Through screaming fights, calculated jabs and laugh-out-loud moments, we watch their relationship evolve into something resembling sisterhood. Emotional and multilayered, Yolk is a heartfelt story about the messy, complicated power of family in the face of the unknown.
Viet Thanh Nguyen
No longer a spy, no longer a sleeper agent, the unnamed narrator from Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning debut novel The Sympathizer, lands in 1981 Paris as a refugee with his Blood Brother in The Committed, a new literary thriller with elegant echoes of Graham Greene and John le Carré. This is a story of what happens at the moment between before and after. This is a story of obligation and assimilation. This is a propulsive narrative driven by money, drugs, and geopolitics, written by one of the most incisive, clever, and darkly comic writers of our generation.
When We Were Infinite
Kelly Loy Gilbert
Kelly Loy Gilbert’s latest novel is a heart-wrenching, powerful story of friendship, growing up and learning to let go. Though it doesn’t shy away from heavy subject matters, When We Were Infinite is beautifully written, and the poignancy of Beth’s narrative in the face of change will linger with readers long after the last page. Perfect for fans of Permanent Record and I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.
Speak, Okinawa: A Memoir
Elizabeth Miki Brina
Breathtakingly honest, sensitive, powerful and compelling, Speak Okinawa is a story of mixed race, mixed heritage, the isolations of the immigrant journey, and the chasms that can haunt a daughter and her mother. One family, three perspectives, three visions, three interpretations of love, sorrow and aspiration. Brina gives us a book whose words will linger for some time to come.
The Making of Asian America: A History
Asian Americans are currently the fasting-growing demographic group in the United States, a trend that shows no signs of slowing down. Professor Erika Lee has written a definitive history of Asian America that is accessible, enlightening and page-turning. Starting with Los Chinos in New Spain and bringing us into the 21st Century, telling the stories of families like her own 7th generation American, descended from immigrants who arrived through Angel and Ellis Islands, to more recent immigrants to the U.S. from across all of Asia. Lee’s lively history proves there is no Asian American monolith — and that there’s no model minority, either.
Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning
Cathy Park Hong
Part memoir and part AAPI manifesto, these fresh, fierce and poetic essays speak to the collision of art and language and race and the legacy of American imperialism. Hong spares no one, including herself, as she unpacks what it means to be an artist, a poet, a woman, a wife, a mother — and Asian American in a world that holds rigid, and increasingly outdated, definitions of those roles and of race. Her anger and dark humor and vulnerability shimmer on the page as she pushes us towards a new understanding of what it means — and how it feels — to be Asian American now.
They Called Us Enemy
George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, Harmony Becker (Illustrator)
A powerful, personal story that asks what it means to be American — and who gets to decide — from actor/author/activist George Takei. In 1942, along with hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans from up and down the West Coast of the U.S., Takei and his entire family were forced from their Los Angeles home and sent to Camp Rohwer in Arkansas, one of ten internment sites where Japanese American citizens were held against their will during WWII. This is a highly accessible, unforgettable coming-of-age of age story set against one of the darkest periods of America’s history.
Linda Sue Park
For the young girls (and the not-so-young women they became) who read the Little House on the Prairie books, but never saw themselves in their pages, here’s Prairie Lotus, the story of a young half-Chinese girl in the 1880 Dakota Territory, written by Newbery Medal-winning author Linda Sue Park. Hanna knows her new small-town neighbors have a hard time accepting anyone who doesn’t look exactly like them, but she’s determined to win them over. This is a timeless and winning story of a plucky, charming young girl who knows what she wants, even if she’s not entire sure how to make her dreams come true.
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When Lily moves with her family to Washington to be with her ailing grandmother, or Halmoni, the last thing she expects is to encounter a magical tiger she’s heard about in Halmoni’s Korean folktales. She soon learns that the tiger is the key to uncovering Halmoni’s past and possibly saving her life. When You Trap a Tiger is a powerful story about one of our greatest powers — storytelling and the effects those stories have on who we become.
Eyes That Kiss in the Corners
Joanna Ho, Dung Ho (Illustrator)
Breathtakingly illustrated by Dung Ho, Eyes that Kiss in the Corners is Joanna Ho’s love letter to not just Asian children, but all children. Her debut picture book gloriously celebrates individual beauty and confidence and highlights how precious a supportive family can be. A perfect book to read at any age and a piece of art that will be shared for years to come.