Welcome, friends, to the Year of the Pig. The Lunar New Year—which marks the beginning of a new year on the traditional Chinese calendar—is an annual celebration, and what better way to celebrate than with books? Here’s a list of YA reads honoring cultures that celebrate the Lunar New Year.
Descendant of the Crane, by Joan He
The only book on this list you can’t read right now is Descendant of the Crane—but I’m putting it first, because then you can pre-order it so that it shows up on your door to read later this year, like a beautiful lunar gift for yourself. One of the most anticipated YA novels of 2019, Jan He’s debut is a Chinese-inspired fantasy about a young princess in a morally grey world. Hesina of Yan never wanted the crown, but when her father is murdered, she’s forced into the queendom—and into the hunt for his killer. To find him, she needs the help of investigator Akira and a soothsayer. Akira is a criminal and the soothsayer uses magic outlawed centuries ago. The wrong side of the law may be the only way to find the killer, but if Hesina finds them, can she bring them to justice—or will the cost of her methods be too high?
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, by Julie C. Dao
Who doesn’t love a reimagining of Snow White? I especially love it when that reimagining gives you a power-hungry teenage girl, which means I have to include Forest on this list. Xifeng will become Empress of Feng Lu if she embraces the destiny given to her by her cruel witch aunt: that the darkness within her, a magic fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed, will allow the gods to put her on the throne. But gaining the throne means abandoning the boy who loves her to become a monster. With the second book out now, there’s no reason not to drop everything and read it, especially if you love books like Heartless. The best part? The sequel, Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix, is out now!
Outrun the Moon, by Stacey Lee
If you’re a fan of historical fiction, one of your first stops should be the brilliant Stacey Lee. Her knack for telling stories from forgotten, quieter pockets of history is astounding. One of the best examples? Outrun the Moon. Mercy Wong tricks her way into St. Clare’s School for Girls, determined to get out of Chinatown, despite St. Clare’s only being for spoiled white girls. But getting in seems easy as April 18, 1906 rolls around, bringing a historic earthquake that brings San Francisco to its (metaphorical) knees. Mercy can’t just wait patiently for the army to help. Can she rally her classmates and help those suffering in her city?
Silver Phoenix, by Cindy Pon
Maybe the best way to celebrate the Lunar New Year is by reading every book Cindy Pon has ever written. But because I love fantasy, I’m going to recommend you start with her debut: SIlver Phoenix, the first in the Kingdom of Xia series. Ai Ling thought she’d earned her freedom with the dishonor she brought upon her family. She is unbetrothed, not chained to some stranger’s bedchambers—but her freedom is a lie. Something is after her, something that wants her dead, and something that can only be warded off by the new power growing within her—if she can master it.
The Astonishing Color of After, by Emily X.R. Pan
Do you love lush stories that make you feel all the things? Good news: you get to read The Astonishing Color of After. Leigh Chen Sanders knows two things: when her mother committed suicide, she turned into a bird; and Leigh can find that bird in Taiwan. She travels to Taiwan under the guise of meeting her maternal grandparents in order to search for the ghost of her mother—and, perhaps, to run from her own struggles and griefs. The New York Times bestseller won an APALA Honor Award at the ALA Awards just last week, so now is the perfect time to pick up this gorgeous read.
The Girl from Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig
Anybody who reads my blog posts knows I’m a huge fan of Heidi Heilig. I’m always looking for an excuse to shamelessly push her books into new hands—and would I push them so hard if they weren’t excellent? The Girl From Everywhere, the first of Heilig’s time-traveling fantasy duology, was my favorite book the year it came out. Nix lives on a ship that can travel through space and time, using maps to coast from future to past—but when her father decides to go back in time to save Nix’s mother, it could erase Nix from existence. There’s no stopping her father’s quest, but will Nix help him… or ruin the only chance he has to bring her mother back?
Emergency Contact, by Mary H. K. Choi
Emergency Contact fulfills two requirements: a story perfect for the Lunar New Year and Valentine’s Day. What’s not to love? This contemporary romcom follows Penny Lee and Sam, two people whose lives never crossed until, somehow, they collide into each other and, miraculously, manage to stay in touch, brought together digitally even if they’re not there in real life. With Penny heading to college in Texas and Sam trying to figure out how to make his minimum wage job work, they have a lot to talk about—and a lot to fall in love with.