As an avid reader who turned to books as an escape at a young age, I’ve been practically raised by distinguished works such as Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Divergent, and more. Though these authors have woven beautiful dystopian worlds and contrived intriguing characters for me to fall in love with, I always longed to relate to those characters visually and culturally. Besides the brief mentions of Padma and Parvati Patil in JK Rowling’s books, not many popular Young Adult Fiction books bear characters of Asian American descent with fewer being written by Asian American authors.
The beauty of literature is its ability to share stories that bring people together, teach lessons that can be applied to daily life, and offer a safe haven for readers to feel welcome and loved. That’s why, especially in light of the recent hate crimes towards Asian Americans, it is important to appreciate the Asian American representation in current YA literature.
Here are 5 books that I’ve enjoyed for their encaptivating plot and diverse cast of characters.
1. A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
The story follows Shirin, a 16-year-old Muslim girl, a year after 9/11 as she navigates the highs and lows of school, her family, and experiencing love for the first time. Past realistically portraying the struggles of just being a teenager, A Very Large Expanse of Sea illustrates the discrimination and Islamaphobia Shirin faces and the pain she goes through as a result of simply being herself. What I enjoyed most about this book was the genuineness of the characters. Unlike some stories that stretch too far and create unrealistic narratives, Shirin’s voice was refreshing, honest, and covered a very underrepresented topic. Following her as she found herself and pushed past the boundaries others set for her will allow readers, no matter their culture, to reflect upon their own experiences.
2. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (trilogy) By Jenny Han
The To All The Boys Series has been greatly popularized by the Netflix film adaptions, but it was originally written as a trilogy. While the films portray most of the Korean references Jenny Han makes, I would still definitely recommend reading the books. While many of the general plot lines are similar, there are quite a few details that differ.
3. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
When Dimple Met Rishi revolves around two Indian-American teens who are set up by their parents for an arranged marriage, an aspect of South Asian culture that is not very prevalent in literature. While Dimple is focused on furthering her career as a web developer, Rishi, a hopeless romantic, has always appreciated his parents’ marriage. So when their parents allow them to attend the same summer program, Rishi tries to pursue Dimple, who wasn’t even told about the plan. What I especially enjoyed about this book was its handling of the coming-of-age issues many South Asians living in America face. It even beautifully meshes the Hindi language to champion a sense of authenticity.
4. Frankly In Love by David Yoon
David Yoon masterfully portrays race, the expectations of family, the divide between immigrant parents and first-generation children, and many more social issues that accompany families who have immigrated to America. Frankly In Love tells the story of Frank Li who falls in love with a white girl at the risk of his parents’ ostracism. His family friend, Joy, has a similar predicament as she has been secretly dating a Chinese American boy. Seizing the opportunity, Frank and Joy deceive their parents with a false relationship as a cover for their real ones. What made the value of the story even greater was that Yoon does an impressive job not only discussing the struggles of those with Asian American identities, but he also analyzes the interactions with other races, such as Frank’s black best friend and white girlfriend.
5. An Ember in the Ashes (series) by Sabaa Tahir
The first installment of An Ember in the Ashes is extremely riveting. Sabaa Tahir builds a world that centers around the Empire, highlighting the inherent flaws of human nature and the dangers the future may hold. The story chronicles the lives of Laia and Elias Veturius, two individuals whose lives could not be more different but whose fates are intertwined. Laia is forced to serve as a slave at Elias’ school in exchange for help to free her recently arrested brother. Elias is a prodigy of Empire, but different from his friends, he is governed by a conscience which affects his performance as a soldier. Personally, I admired the way Tahir told her story while weaving aspects of South Asian culture so seamlessly. While the plot resembles that of other dystopian series, most characters have colored skin. Additionally each book in the series has been influenced by global events, whether it be the recruitment of young Kashmiri males for the military, the refugee crisis, or the conflict in the Middle East.
Happy reading! 🙂