Great books by Asian and Pacific Islander authors

In light of recent events in the US–namely, the shootings in Atlanta last week that resulted in the deaths of eight people, including six Asian American women–I want to make it unequivocally clear that I support the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. There are many ways to show support, from monetary donations to attending marches, but for those of us who are readers, I wanted to also give some titles of books by Asian and Asian American authors, across a wide range of genres. The publishing industry has a history of failing authors of color, and that includes authors of Asian descent. Buying and reading their books sends a message to publishers that readers value these stories, and that these stories are important to tell. Of course, we should be reading diversely all the time, but if you find that Asian authors are not well-represented in your reading…well, this is a great place to start.

I’m breaking this post out by listing a book for each genre, along with its author’s racial/ethnic identity. This list is by no means comprehensive, and I’ll admit, there are some great titles that I left off mostly for space purposes–but each title on this list is one that I have read and wholeheartedly recommend. Also, the authors’ identities I have listed are what I could find from their website bios; if any of my information is inaccurate, please let me know so I can correct it.

As an additional note: if you are planning to purchase any of these titles, please consider buying them from an Asian American-owned bookstore. For a list of options, check out this LIST from Libro.fm.

Literary Fiction – Interior Chinatown

Author: Charles Yu (Taiwanese & Chinese)

If you want to read one book that illuminates the experiences of Asian Americans today, make it this one. (Obviously it is not definitive–no book is–but this one covers a lot of ground in a very engaging way that makes it a good jumping-off point.) I just finished the audiobook recently–narrated by the incredibly talented Joel de la Fuente–and was fully engrossed the whole time. For such a slim volume, it manages to include so much content: there is humor and drama, absurdity and painful reality, and so much commentary on the immigrant experience, the unique problems faced by Asians in America today, and the complexities of culture clashes in liminal spaces. I feel like I need to read it a second time just to fully appreciate everything that happened in it, but even from a single listen, I can say: this one is amazing.

YA Fantasy – Shadow of the Fox

Author: Julie Kagawa (Japanese)

This is the first book in a trilogy, steeped in Japanese mythology, and featuring a ragtag team of misfits on a quest to save their world. Fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender will delight in the plot structure; this first book in particular has the same “monster of the week” feel as ATLA Season 1, with the gang going from town to town and helping defeat supernatural entities at every turn. Plus, it features characters ranging from an innocent kitsune who grew up in a monastery, to a Shadow Clan warrior hiding a demonic secret, to a sarcastic ex-samurai with a heart of gold. And one very good magic dog.

Side note–Japanese mythology has the coolest monsters! Like, flying weasels with sickles for feet? Amazing.

Contemporary Romcom – Crazy Rich Asians

Author: Kevin Kwan (Singaporean)

This movie entered a lot of people’s radar when its movie adaptation came out–and, yes, the movie was a lot of fun. But the book it is based on feels a little less Hollywood and a little more Jane Austen, with snark and social satire featuring prominently in its narrative. It also dedicates more page space to characters who the movie paid less attention to, exploring a wider variety of experiences in the topsy-turvy world of the super-wealthy elites.

Science Fiction – This Is How You Lose the Time War

Author: Amal El-Mohtar (Lebanese) & Max Gladstone

True, only one of these two authors is Asian, but let’s be honest: Asian authors are incredibly underrepresented in the SFF space, and this one deserves a spotlight. This is a sapphic romance between two rival agents in a time-travel war that just might determine the fate of the universe. It is beautifully written, mind-bending, and thoroughly engrossing.

YA Contemporary – Patron Saints of Nothing

Author: Randy Ribay (Filipino)

The war on drugs in the Philippines, led by Duterte, is a topic that rarely comes up in American discussions. This book fully leans into it, though, following an American teenage boy who returns to his family’s hometown in the Philippines to investigate the death of his cousin. The trip is a homecoming, a cultural reckoning, and a new lens through which to view his own experiences back in America.

Poetry – When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities

Author: Chen Chen (Chinese)

This is a true hidden gem of a book. The first time I read it, I was in the lobby of my college living-learning community, and almost every other page, I would pause my reading to share a particularly excellent line from it with my nearby friends. It is a book about being Chinese-American, being queer, and the difficult overlap of those two identities, among other things. Even those who are more skeptical of poetry will find something to love in this collection.

YA Magical Realism – The Astonishing Color of After

Author: Emily X.R. Pan (Taiwanese & Chinese)

In this poignant tale, a girl grapples with her mother’s suicide and her own tenuous connection with her mother’s family in Taiwan. It is a story both about memory, embracing your family heritage, and the complex webs of grief (and sometimes resentment) that can linger after a person leaves–whether in a temporary way, like leaving home, or in a permanent way, like death.

Contemporary Fiction – Q & A

Author: Vikas Swarup (Indian)

You might better know this one as “the book that Slumdog Millionaire was based on,” but like so many adaptations (see: Crazy Rich Asians, above), this book is very different in tone from the movie. While it still keeps the same overarching plot structure of a man from the slums of India, competing on a game show and succeeding because of his eclectic childhood experiences, it isn’t quite so gritty. It leans more into the drama and romance of the main character’s personal life, and it takes a rather lighter tone that is sometimes at odds with the more brutal elements of the story.

YA Historical Fiction – Like a Love Story

Author: Abdi Nazemian (Iranian)

I will never not recommend this book. It is emotionally complex and socially important, set in 1989 during the AIDS crisis. It is about a gay teen who immigrated to the US from Iran with his family (well, Tehran to Toronto and then to New York, but same idea), struggling to come to terms with his own sexuality, the cultural expectations of his parents, and the desire to join ACT UP protests. The AIDS crisis is a part of queer history that is often erased, and this story brings visibility to it, along with the complex dichotomy of sexual and cultural identities.

Middle-Grade Contemporary Novel-In-Verse – Other Words for Home

Author: Jasmine Warga (Arab)

This is a lovely book, suitable for younger readers but no less meaningful for adults. Told entirely in verse, it traces the experiences of a middle-school girl who immigrates to the US from Syria. She faces both newfound joys, in American life and new friends, and new difficulties in the form of racist classmates and community members. Parents, this would be a great one to read with your kids–and if you don’t have kids, reading it yourself isn’t a bad idea either.

Historical Fiction – The God of Small Things

Author: Arundhati Roy (Indian)

It may have first been published in the 90’s, which isn’t that long ago, but I consider this book a contemporary classic. An emotional, lyrical, multi-generational tale of a family in India, told with a non-chronological timeline, it touches on family, caste, and so much more.

Memoir – Know My Name

Author: Chanel Miller (Chinese)

This is the powerful memoir of the woman who first became known after her candid, emotional statements regarding her sexual assault at the hands of Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer who got off with a shockingly light sentence despite committing a horrible crime. It sheds light on the problems of how our society and our justice system treat sexual assault victims, while also exploring the deep traumatic effects her own experience had on her life. Have tissues ready when you read or listen to this one.

What about you?

Of course, there are many other amazing books out there by Asian authors. What are some of your favorites? Have you read any on this list? Adding any to your TBR now? Leave a comment and let me know.

Until next time,

Kathryn (“K-Specks”)

3 thoughts on “Great books by Asian and Pacific Islander authors

  1. whitreadslit March 22, 2021 / 6:52 pm

    I have only read The Astonishing Color of After from this list, but I am adding many more to my TBR!

    Some other amazing books by Asian American authors that I love are The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee and Almost American Girl by Robin Ha.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathryn Speckels May 4, 2021 / 11:29 pm

      (I am the absolute worst at comment responses apparently, replying to this over a month after you posted it, whoops!) I’ve heard so many good things about both of those two–I especially want to check out The Downstairs Girl sometimes soon! And Stacey Lee’s new book, The Luck of the Titanic, sounds like it is going to be AMAZING.

      Liked by 1 person

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