In the United States, May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. While it’s important to learn about AAPI history and support AAPI creatives, businesses, organizations, and everyday people year-round, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is a good time to really make that support a priority.
One great thing everyone can do to support AAPI stories and voices is read books by AAPI authors. There are countless books by AAPI authors in every genre and for every age range, so there really are books for every reader! Below are five young adult books of different genres that I personally recommend. Find your next favorite book and support these amazing AAPI authors!
I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee (contemporary)
Quick Synopsis: I’ll Be the One follows Skye Shin, a Korean American girl in a competition to become the world’s first plus-sized K-pop star. She challenges the competition’s (and her mother’s) views on how fat girls “should” present themselves in society—all while being scrutinized by the media and navigating a potential relationship with a fellow competitor.
Why I Love It: This book is a love letter to K-pop, fat girls, and Korean heritage while simultaneously being a critical examination of anti-fatness, media frenzies, and society’s rigid expectations for people who aren’t the “perfect” majority. Skye is proud of who she is—Korean American, fat, dancer, singer, bisexual—and she won’t let anyone else take that pride away from her. Even with some people rooting against her, Skye is surrounded by so much love and support, and you will want to love and support her, too—in the competition, in her relationship, in navigating her family dynamics, and in everything else!
We Are Not Free by Traci Chee (historical fiction)
Quick Synopsis: We Are Not Free collectively follows fourteen Japanese American teens during World War II and shows how their lives are changed by the U.S.’s mass incarceration of people of Japanese ancestry. Racism, injustice, and systemic oppression continuously try to tear the friends apart, but they refuse to accept that they are alone.
Why I Love It: This book takes place during a time in American history that many people don’t know much about; some people don’t know about the Japanese internment camps at all. The characters reconcile what it means to be “free” or “American” when they face racism, injustice, and stripped freedoms at every turn anyway. Despite the anxiety, fear, anger, and confusion that comes with their incarcerations in the camps, the teens find ways to experience love and joy, and they always have each other. Fourteen may sound like a LOT of main characters, but this ensemble cast is full of unique personalities that are easy to tell apart, and you will love every single one of them!
Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles (fantasy)
Quick Synopsis: Where Dreams Descend is the first book in a duology. This first book follows Kallia, Demarco, and Jack through a magical competition in a city with a mysterious history. As the competition’s stakes become increasingly dangerous, the secrets these three characters have been hiding from each other begin to surface—with devastating consequences.
Why I Love It: A great magic system is key to any fantasy, and this book has a great magic system! Even though every detail isn’t explained, there is enough to understand how different characters use their magic, and brief “training” scenes and conversations between characters help shed light on how magic functions. I also loved Kallia as a leading character; she is a strong woman who stands up to everyone to remind them why she is amazing, worthy of praise/recognition, and, well, the best! Even the people who like her and are her friends aren’t free from her jabs when they underestimate her. Kallia is determined, she fights for what she wants, she knows her value, and she will disrupt the laws of nature if it means forcing ignorant people to see their biases/injustices.
Parachutes by Kelly Yang (contemporary)
Quick Synopsis: [Book Content Warning: sexual assault] Parachutes follows Claire Wang, a Chinese “parachute” (or student studying in the United States while her wealthy parents stay in Asia), and Dani De La Cruz, the daughter of an immigrant who is determined to make it into Yale despite competing against privileged students who can buy their way in. Claire and Dani are desperately trying to avoid each other, but after they both face life-altering experiences, they eventually turn to each other for healing and support.
Why I Love It: This is a powerful read about standing up for yourself, finding your support, and not backing down from powerful institutions who would rather cover up or deny your pain than lose some money. It beautifully depicts both trauma and love, both hurt and healing. Even though the characters face things no one should have to experience, they advocate for themselves and find validation in using their voices. I also love that this book uses dual perspectives: the chapters alternate between Claire and Dani, and seeing how both girls view everything so differently is a perfect way of showing how and why one person can never truly know what’s going on in someone else’s life, even if they think they know someone extremely well.
Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang (nonfiction; graphic novel)
Quick Synopsis: Dragon Hoops is a look at the Bishop O’Dowd Dragons, a high school basketball team, as they work toward the California State Championship. Yang intertwines his own conversations with the students/coaches, basketball history, and play-by-plays of the games to show the Dragons’ journey to the Championship.
Why I Love It: You don’t need to be a sports fan to enjoy this story! I’ve never been a huge basketball fan, but this was a really engaging story about the dedicated kids on the Dragons team—and how their dedication, motivation, and grit went with them off the court, too. There are tense depictions of actual basketball games, critical looks at different forms of racism and sexism both in basketball’s past and present, and a recurring theme of taking courageous steps into new boundaries/dreams—both on and off the court.
I really hope you enjoy at least one of these amazing books by these fantastic authors; maybe you’ll even find one of your new favorite books! I also hope you’ll take time both this month and throughout the year to show AAPI authors and their works the support they deserve. Happy reading!