Reading is one of the best ways a person can both entertain and educate themselves, as well as step into someone else's shoes for awhile. While the need for Asian representation across film, music and publishing still has a long way to go, there is an array of books out there written by Asian as well as Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) authors that deserve to be recognized.
This list includes novels, nonfiction, memoirs and essay collections that touch on the themes of Asian identity, immigration and what it means to belong, to stories that explore familial bonds as well as romantic love. Truly, there’s a book for everyone to enjoy: some of them will make you laugh, others will make you cry, a few will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end and then there are those that will make you think critically about the current state of Asian America.
See below for modern Asian stories to beloved, bestselling classics like Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. Curl up in your favorite comfy chair, sit back and grab your next favorite read.
Best friends Fiona and Jane are thick as thieves through their chaotic teenage years, but when Fiona moves across the country, their bond stretches to its breaking point. This novel about the power of female friendship will give you an intimate look into both women's perspectives on a shared story that has as many facets as they do.
When an archaeologist witnesses the unleashing of a long-buried plague, it changes history as we know it. This hauntingly beautiful novel meditates on how the human spirit perseveres through adversity. With everything from a cosmic search for home to a theme park for terminally ill kids and even a talking pig, it’s a lyrical adventure that feels fantastical yet familiar.
Frida's daughter Harriet is her entire world. But when she makes a devastating error in judgment, the state decides that she has to prove her mothering skills in order to remain one. This frighteningly prescient novel feels like Orwell and Vonnegut as it explores the depths of parents' love, how strictly we judge mothers and each other and the terrifying potential of government overreach.
Min can’t believe his ambitious Korean girlfriend Yu-jin died by suicide, right before graduation. As he seeks to untangle the mystery of her death, he learns more about Yu-jin’s life as the daughter of a high-ranking government official, the true nature of her relationship with her roommate So-ra, and his own bi-racial identity. This compelling, fast-paced novel is as complex as the characters it follows.
This memoir in essays blends memoir and cultural criticism and takes a deep dive into the racial consciousness in America today. With the recent rise in Asian American hate crimes around the United States, this book is a timely must-read.
Ingrid has hit a wall in her PhD research on poet Xiao-Wen Chou when she comes across something that suggests he isn't who he. Before she knows it, Ingrid has blown open a scandal that threatens her relationships, her school and even her own sense of self. This is a fresh, hilarious and thoughtful satire that'll make you think about cultural identity in a whole new way.
In this book of nine nonfiction essays, The New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino dives into the topics of internet culture, “scammer culture” and contemporary feminism. If you’re a millennial who’s curious and critical about the way things are in the world, chances are, you’ll relate to her reflections.
Written in the form of a letter, the novel tells the story of narrator Little Dog, who writes to his illiterate mother and recounts their history in Vietnam. It's a lyrical exploration of the bonds between an immigrant son and his mother.
Two families from different socioeconomic backgrounds in Shaker Heights, Ohio are brought together by their children. Tensions begin to rise after a legal case stemming from an adoption becomes the talk of the town. The book was adapted into a mini-series on Hulu starring Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon.
Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall fall in love at university, but Phoebe, who quietly blames herself for her mom’s recent death, gets lured into a secret cult with a charismatic leader. When the group commits an act of violence, Will struggles to confront the fanaticism he worked his whole life to escape.
Jay Reguero planned on spending his last summer as a high schooler playing video games before going off to college in the fall. But after his cousin Jay gets murdered for allegedly being involved in President Duterte’s war on drugs in the Philippines, he travels to the country to uncover the truth about what happened.
Based on her essay in The New Yorker, Zauner’s debut memoir reflects on what it was like growing up in Eugene, Oregon as one of the few Asian Americans in her school, as well as her complicated relationship with her own mother, and how the moments they bonded over food and life shaped her identity as an adult.
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Ortile writes about his experience moving from the Philippines to the U.S., highlighting the discrimination he faced as a child from his skin color, accent and femininity and the myths he used to believe about how he thought he could fit into society if he completely shed his identity and married a white man.
This eerie, dystopian science fiction novel follows Candace Chen, a millennial who works a tedious job as a Bible product coordinator in New York City. Suddenly, Shen Fever takes over the world — and the symptoms include forcing people to repeat old routines compulsively without consciousness until they die.
New Yorker Rachel Chu is in for a wild ride after she agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend Nicholas Young and his family. However, he leaves out the part where he comes from money — and soon, her vacation turns from being a relaxed trip to a challenging maze full of old money, new money, nosy family members, ex-girlfriends and one overly protective mother.
Lara Jean Covey is an average teenage girl who used to spend her days coping with her childhood crushes by writing them secret love letters and storing them in a shoebox in her closet. But her whole world changes when those letters somehow get mailed out years later.
From a public school in New York to the Cultural Revolution in China during the 1960s, this fiction short story collection explores seven different stories of young women spanning across different generations. Zhang's brilliant storytelling gives voice to Chinese immigrants from all over the world, you’ll feel like you’re right there with each of them.
In this beautiful and powerful debut memoir, Talusan chronicles their coming-of-age journey as a transgender Filipino-American. Talusan explores the various aspects of what it means to be perceived as white and life as an immigrant in the U.S.
When an Indian-Muslim wedding reunites a family of five whose members have spent most of their lives finding balance between old and modern traditions, it causes them to reflect on the decisions that brought them to where they are in the present.
Mental and chronic illness takes the forefront of Wang's memoir and essay collection, where she talks straightforwardly about her schizoaffective disorder diagnosis, as well as the way the medical community handles mental health.
After breaking things off with her fiancé and quitting her job, 30-year-old Ruth moves back in with her parents only to come home to a father who is losing his memory and an erratic mother. Blending humor with grief, Khong's debut novel is an exploration of the unexpected moments in life.
Undocumented Chinese immigrant Polly goes to her job at a nail salon one morning only to disappear without a trace, leaving her only child, Deming Guo, by himself. The 11-year-old boy is eventually adopted by a pair of affluent white professors who move him to a completely new town. Now going by Daniel Wilkinson, he struggles to adapt to his new life while trying to keep the memory of his mother and old life close.
After spending 25 years living undocumented in a country whose government rejects him, Vargas uses his voice to tell his own story. In his memoir, he writes openly and honestly about his life as a Filipino immigrant.
In the time that they’ve been married, Yeong-hye and her husband have lived a pretty ordinary life. That is, until she begins having bloody, vivid dreams that force her to stop eating meat altogether — and this small act of defiance disrupts her home life leading to a series of shocking events.
After being disowned by her own parents, Hero De Vera leaves the Philippines, which have been scarred by political upheaval, to live with her uncle and aunt in the Bay Area. They take her in without asking about her past, but her much younger American-born cousin is curious. What results in a funny, poignant story about three generations of women who try to find balance in their lives.
When Chung was born, she was severely premature and placed for adoption by her Korean parents, then raised by a white family in a small Oregon town. Growing up, she believed certain things about the reasons why her biological parents gave her up, but the more she faces prejudices and forms her identity, the more curious she becomes at finding out the truth.
The Sympathizer is a spy novel full of love and betrayal that centers on a narrator living a life as a communist double agent who comes to America after the Fall of Saigon and is secretly communicating to his communist leaders in Vietnam while also building a life with other Vietnamese refugees in Los Angeles.
In this coming-of-age memoir, Gharib recounts everything in her childhood from chasing her parents’ ideals to crushing on skater boys, and what it was like growing up in America with Filipino and Egyptian traditions. Through her original artwork and drawings, she creatively brings her own story life in a unique way.
Stella Lane is excellent at math, but she’s never been great at dating and it doesn’t help that she is disgusted by the act of making out. But when she hires escort Michael Phan to teach her about everything dating and sex has to offer, she slowly starts to fall in love with him in this steamy romance novel.
Balram Halwai is a poor, but ambitious Indian villager who eventually becomes a businessman running a taxi service in Bangalore. This novel, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2008, explores the themes of class struggle in India and overcoming poverty. It was recently adapted into a Netflix movie starring Adarsh Gourav, Rajkummar Rao and Priyanka Chopra Jonas.
From the sailors who came on the first trans-Pacific ships in the 1500s to the Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II, this in-depth book highlights how generations of Asian immigrants and their American-born descendants created and revised the Asian American life as well as the activism that shaped their histories.
Spanning over several years, this story starts in 1949 when four Chinese immigrant women meet over dim sum and play mahjong to recount their lives and the relationships with each of their daughters. Amy’s endearing novel about mother-daughter relationships has become a beloved classic that remains a must-read.
Saleah BlancaflorSaleah Blancaflor is a New York- and New Jersey-based writer originally hailing from Oklahoma.
Lizz SchumerSenior EditorLizz (she/her) is a senior editor at Good Housekeeping, where she runs the GH Book Club, edits essays and long-form features and writes about pets, books and lifestyle topics.