5 YA Books You Should be Reading for AAPI Heritage Month
From historical gang warfare to fake dating, here are five books you should be reading in celebration of AAPI heritage month.
By Lance Serafica
May is AAPI (Asian-American Pacific Islander) Heritage Month: a thirty-one-day celebration of the triumphs, under-discussed history, and rich culture of the millions upon millions of Asians and Pacific Islanders living in the United States of America. This year, the annual celebration is significant. 2021 has been one of the most tumultuous times for the AAPI community, with numerous tragedies and acts of violence committed against its members in the wake of racist rhetoric regarding COVID-19. AAPI Heritage Month and all that it commemorates offer a much-needed reprieve and reminder that the AAPI community is more than its pain.
One of the best ways this is illustrated is through art. Specifically, books for young adults written by and starring members of the AAPI community: after all, it is the newest generation of the community that needs and deserves to see stories starring characters who live and look like them. From books set in the modern-day to those that feature Asian protagonists in secondary, fantastical worlds, these YA books all have one very important thing in common: they unapologetically center and celebrate AAPI culture. Thus, here are five books that you should be reading for AAPI Heritage month:
In this refreshing take on the classic coming-of-age narrative, readers follow Darius Kellner, a half-Persian and half-American, chubby teenage boy on his first trip to Iran—all the while navigating his biracial identity, his father’s, and his depression, and a new friendship with the boy-next-door named Sohrab.
At its heart, this is a book about discovery. As Darius discovers more about who he truly is, he is forced to unpack his feelings about his Persian heritage and have discussions about his mental health. Readers will instantly be charmed by Darius’s awkward and endearingly genuine first-person narration as he struggles to find his place in between the two cultures he belongs to. If you’re looking to read about a young Asian man finding his place in the world, look no further. Find here.
In this searing story exploring privilege, wealth, Asian identity, and sexual assault, author Kelly Yang pulls no punches. Told from the dual perspectives of Claire Wang, a wealthy Chinese girl jetted off to the US to live and study. Dani De La Cruz, a hard-working Filipina-American scholarship student, Yang weaves a courageous story that critiques institutions of power and those who abuse them.
This novel is as timely as it is well-written, highlighting the concerns of the #MeToo movement in a story starring women of color. It is decidedly not a feel-good narrative. Instead, it is purposefully written to be harrowing; Yang makes the personal political with frank, honest writing that is both compulsively readable and impossible to look away from. Find here.
In this New York Times Bestselling novel, debut author Chloe Gong sets a retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in 1920’s Shanghai that is just as dramatic but twice as bloody and romantic. This version of the classic tale of star-crossed lovers, the main protagonists Juliette and Roma, are heirs to two notorious street gangs. They must put aside both their families’ blood feud and their complicated feelings for one another to destroy a monster that may destroy their city.
This book has received critical and commercial acclaim, and quite frankly, it deserves it. Gong takes the bare bones of the Romeo and Juliet narrative cuts to its essence with her razor-sharp prose and builds a fresh narrative with it by introducing elements such as complex explorations of culture, fully realized historical setting, and heart-pounding action. Find here.
Author Joan He’s sophomore novel is a departure from her court politics-heavy, fantasy debut novel Descendant of the Crane; while this book is not in quite the same genre, He’s writing remains just as masterful. The Ones We’re Meant to Find presents an emotionally weighed narrative about two sisters—Cee and Kasey—lost to one another, but trying to find each other set in a dystopian world ravaged by climate change and natural disasters.
This book has been compared to Black Mirror with a dash of Studio Ghibli magic, and as odd as that seems, it is the perfect way to encapsulate the story He tells in this book. The story she weaves is layered, with each page heavy with both the weight of the emotions the characters are feeling and their secrets. Mystery, clever world-building, and characters that you cannot help but find yourself invested in: this book has it all. Find here.
In this recently released debut novel, author Tashie Bhuiyan tells the story of Karina Ahmed, a Bangladeshi-American teen, struggling with anxiety and her parent’s expectations of her as she ends up fake dating her school’s resident bad boy, Ace Clyde. This struggle, of course, occurs while her parents have left the country for a month.
Frequent readers of YA romance will find the tropes—fake dating, tutoring a love interest, dating the school, bad boy, to name a few—employed in the narrative familiar. But with her deft writing, Bhuiyan gives welcome nuance through Karina’s cultural background and adds depth to Ace beneath his leather jacket and designer sweatshirts. Counting Down With You is not only a story about a cliche and swoon-worthy romance; it is a coming-of-age story starring a woman of color, and that in itself makes it worthy of a read. Find here.
Lance Robin Serafica
is a writing intern for Quade Media who can be found with his nose buried in a book or obsessively listening to Taylor Swift’s extensive discography. He is currently pursuing a BA in English, a minor in Creative Writing, and a minor in Strategic Communications at Rowan University. You can find more of his opinions on books on his Goodreads page.