In celebration of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, I’m sharing some of my favorite YA novels by Asian-Pacific American authors, and a bunch that I’m looking forward to reading. For those unfamiliar with APHM, this is a celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders brought about by the joint efforts of U.S. Representatives Frank Horton and Norm Mineta, and Senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga back in the seventies.
In no particular order, here are a few of my favorite YA stories written by Asian American authors.
A SINGLE SHARD, Linda Sue Park
Set in 12th century Korea, an orphan is determined to prove his worthiness to make pottery by delivering his master’s bowls to the Korean court. The MC, Tree-Ear is one of the best heroes I’ve read in a long time – his tenacity and good heart make it impossible for the reader not to love him, and to root for him even when all goes to pot.
KIRA-KIRA, Cynthia Kadohata
A young Japanese American girl living in 1950’s Georgia struggles to find her way in a family torn by her sister’s illness and her parents’ horrible work conditions. One of the best things about this novel was the bond between sisters through the MC’s attempts to understand her sister’s illness, even as she doesn’t always understand what’s happening.
HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET, by Jamie Ford
Though this book is shelved as literary fiction, I’m including it because of this book’s appeal to young adults. It’s about a forbidden friendship between a Chinese American boy and a Japanese American girl during World War II. As an Asian American historical fiction writer myself, I love books that give us a glimpse into our past, and in doing so, a glimpse into ourselves.
FIFTH CHINESE DAUGHTER, by Jade Snow Wong
This was the first Asian American YA novel I ever read. It’s a memoir of a Chinese girl growing up in San Francisco in the mid-20th century, who must reconcile her traditional Chinese upbringing to the American way of life. What I loved about this book is that beyond the rich cultural detail is how universal Jade’s story is – she’s the every day girl struggling find her way in the world, even if that means rebelling a little against what her parents expect.
AMERICAN BORN CHINESE, Gene Luen Yang
In this graphic novel, a Chinese American boy navigates his way through bullies and American culture. This book speaks to anyone born into a family or circumstance they wish they could escape. I loved the gentle humor, not to mention the precise illustrations that make even the most reluctant readers (my husband) want to read.
LEGEND trilogy, Marie Lu
Set in the flooded Republic of Los Angeles 2130 A.D., about a boy who is the Republic’s most wanted criminal and a girl who is the Republic’s most beloved government prodigy whose paths cross when her brother is murdered and she is hired to hunt down the boy responsible — but the truth they uncover will become legend. If you don’t know this series yet, it’s time. The action is fast and the boy meets girl on the wrong side of the tracks is classic.
Here are a few books by Asian American authors who are on my TBR list:
PROPHECY, Ellen Oh
Kira’s the only female in the king’s army, and the prince’s bodyguard. She’s a demon slayer and an outcast, hated by nearly everyone in her home city of Hansong. And, she’s their only hope…
A STEP FROM HEAVEN, An Na
Korean-American girl tells the story of her acculturation into American life beginning from the day she leaves Korea as a young child and ending when she is a young woman.
GIRLS, GEEKS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES, Mike Jung
Three 12-year-old guys discover that the new alter ego of their hometown superhero, Captain Stupendous, is a 12-year-old girl.
And here are a few books by Asian American authors debuting in 2015.
FOR THE RECORD by the Freshman Fifteen’s own Charlotte Huang, an all-access glimpse into the modern music scene in which a girl unexpectedly becomes the lead singer of an indie darling band and captures the attention of a Hollywood it-boy.
AN EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir, the story of two teenagers fighting to survive under the Empire’s brutal, militaristic regime, which has outlawed reading among the once-powerful “Scholar” class; the “Scholars” live under the oppression of the “Martials,” who silently assassinate insurgents.
CONVICTION by the Freshman Fifteen’s own Kelly Loy Gilbert, about a high school baseball star, whose conservative Christian father has just been arrested for a possible hate crime of which the boy is the only witness, in a timely contemporary novel about truth, justice, and baseball
BLACKBIRD FLY, by Erin Entrada Kelly, about a bullied seventh-grade music prodigy who loves the Beatles and dreams of owning a certain Fender Starcaster acoustic guitar.
Editor’s note: Stacey is far too modest to recommend her own book, the gorgeously written, moving, un-put-downable UNDER A PAINTED SKY, so we shall do it for her.
UNDER A PAINTED SKY, by Stacey Lee. When a 15-year-old Chinese girl kills a Missouri landowner in self-defense, she and a runaway slave disguise themselves as young men and seek their freedom in the frontier with a band of cowboys.
Do you have a favorite book by an Asian American author? Please share in the comments below!
*The term “Asian-Pacific” encompasses all of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia) and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Easter Island).
Stacey Lee is the author of UNDER A PAINTED SKY coming Winter 2015 from G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
Stacey loves papayas, baubles, chocolate peanut butter anything, taking walks, nature shows, Spanish guitar, funky dancing. And if you ever wrote her a letter with pen and paper, she probably still has it.