May marks Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month in the U.S. and Asian Heritage Month in Canada. It’s a time to recognizes the contributions and influence of Asian North Americans to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States and Canada.
Among these achievements are pieces of literature for people of all ages written by Asian authors. From children’s books, to graphic novels for teens and tweens to novels for adults, there are several great books by Asian authors that came out in 2022.
So no matter which side of the border you live on, celebrate this month by putting these 15 books by Asian authors at the top of your to-read list.
Friends are Friends, Forever written by Dane Liu, illustrated by Lynn Scurfield 🍁
On Dandan’s last night in China, her best friend Yueyue gives her red paper and a spool of thread as a parting gift so Dandan can carry on their tradition—which consists of making paper snowflakes and freezing the outside to hang as ornaments—with a new friend. However, when Dandan arrives in America, she finds it hard to adapt to her new home, let alone find a friend to enjoy Yueyue’s gift. Inspired by Dane Liu’s own life, Friends are Friends, Forever is a tender, touching tale about the enduring power of friendship despite both distances and differences.
Amy Wu and the Warm Welcome written by Kat Zhang, illustrated by Charlene Chua
Another book that explores a facet of the immigrant experience is Kat Zhang and Charlene Chua’s Amy Wu and the Warm Welcome. One morning when Amy arrives at school, a surprise awaits her there in the form of a new student named Lin! Despite her best efforts to make Lin feel welcome throughout the day, Lin doesn’t say a word. With its delightful writing and dazzling illustrations, Amy Wu and the Warm Welcome teaches readers how to recognize and break down the language barriers that sometimes hold immigrant students back.
Where Do Your Feelings Live? written by Catherine Hernandez, illustrated by Myriam Chery 🍁
Whether negative or positive, feelings can sometimes be overwhelming and hard to process, especially when you’re young. Catherine Hernandez and Myriam Cherry’s Where Do Your Feelings Live? asks various children where their feelings live, reassures them that their habitat of choice is perfectly fine, and recommends creative outlets to make the feelings’ dwelling cozier. The result is a poignant picture book that comforts young people both inside the book and outside of it.
Eyes that Speak to the Stars written by Joanna Ho, illustrated by Dung Ho
Comfort also plays a significant role in Joanna Ho and Dung Ho’s Eyes that Speak to the Stars, the companion to the acclaimed Eyes That Kiss in the Corners.
After seeing himself in a friend’s drawing, a young boy is saddened to realize that his eyes don’t look like the rest of his friends’. However, he cheers up when his father explains that his eyes—whose shape is a gift to him from his father, his Agong, and his Agong’s ancestors before him—can soar above the clouds, into the skies, and speak to the stars. It is no secret that eyes are a recurring subject of anti-Asian racism, so Joanna Ho and Dung Ho redefine them as a symbol of strength and perseverance through their uplifting, eloquent book.
Bharatnatyam in Ballet Shoes written by Mahak Jain, illustrated by Anu Chouhan 🍁
Ballet and Bharatnatyam are two dance forms that don’t have a lot in common, or at least that appears to Paro as she attends her first ballet class. Used to dancing Bharatnatyam at home with her mom, Paro worries that she might have to give it up to become a better ballet dancer until her mom and teacher change her mind. Inspired by the real-life relationship between ballet dancer Anna Pavlova and Bharatnatyam icon Rukmini Devi, Bharatnatyam in Ballet Shoes is an engaging and insightful book that illustrates the delicate dance many immigrant and diasporic children often have to do between cultures.
For Tweens and Teens
The Not-so-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei by Christina Matula 🍁
Paro isn’t alone in juggling two worlds at once; Holly-Mei Jones in Christina Matula’s The Not-so-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei faces similar struggles when her mom’s job moves their family from Canada to Hong Kong. Suddenly, Holly-Mei has to navigate the messiness of middle school—like frenemies and group projects gone wrong—while also navigating an entirely new place and the culture shock that it comes with. So if you’re looking for an escape, ride along the rollercoaster that is The Not-so-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei.
Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American by Laura Gao
Messiness also features prominently—in Laura Gao’s graphic novel, Messy Roots, if its title doesn’t give that away. The story chronicles Gao’s real-life journey of immigrating from Wuhan, China, to a small town in Texas at a young age and experiencing all the hiccups that came with it. Gao jumps back and forth between their past and present as they try to figure out their identity—as a queer, immigrant Wuhanese American, especially in the wake of COVID-19—to create a memoir that is equal parts hilarious, heartfelt, and, given Gao’s appetizing drawings of food—hunger-inducing.
Café Con Lychee by Emery Lee
Stir your appetite further with Emery Lee’s Café Con Lychee. Theo Mori and Gabriel Moreno go to the same school, are on the same soccer team, and share the same dislike for each other, especially since their parents’ rival businesses—a café that serves Asian-American desserts (Theo) and a Puerto Rican bakery (Gabriel). So when a new fusion café opens up and threatens to put them both out of business, it is up to the boys to team up and save the day. However, while winning back their customers, the boys also win each other’s hearts. Café Con Lychee wraps themes that can sometimes ring sour—such as strained family relations and exploring one’s sexuality—in a sweet and satisfying enemies-to-lovers package. Take a bite!
Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf
A year after her best friend and the local Scrabble Queen, Trina Low, died, Najwa Bakri enters her first Scrabble championship in an effort to heal. But healing isn’t easy when all the other competitors are scrambling to sit on Trina’s empty throne. It becomes difficult when Trina’s old Instagram account suddenly starts posting cryptic messages hinting that foul play was involved in her death—and at the hands of someone at the championship. Will Najwa hit a—literal and metaphorical—triple word score, or will someone flip the carefully-arranged board that is her life? Read Hanna Alkaf’s Queen of the Tiles to find out!
Wrong Side of the Court by H.N. Khan 🍁
Fifteen-year-old Fawad Chaudhry dreams of becoming the NBA’s first Pakistani player. However, before he makes it to the NBA, he needs to convince his mom to let him join his school team first. This might prove harder than it seems, given how strained his relationship with his mother has become under the weight of everything: the grief from his father’s death; the harsh economic inequalities in the Regent Park neighbourhood where he lives; and the bullying and violence that stems from these inequalities. Let Fawad’s determination to propel himself to new heights, especially on the basketball court, inspire you in H.N. Khan’s stunning debut novel—which breaks your heart and warms it at others—Wrong Side of the Court.
Jameela Green Ruins Everything by Zarqa Nawaz 🍁
Another protagonist striving for something beyond reach is the titular character in Zarqa Nawaz’s Jameela Green Ruin’s Everything. Jameela just wants her memoir to be a New York Times bestseller. When that doesn’t happen, she seeks spiritual guidance from the new imam at her mosque and in her quest to do a good task and redeem herself, Jameela—as the book’s title indicates—ruins everything. Accompany Jameela on her topsy-turvy spiritual and physical journey as she sets out to help an unhoused man and somehow takes down a terrorist organization in the simultaneously silly and sublime story, Jameela Green Ruins Everything.
My Grief, the Sun by Sanna Wani 🍁
The magic of poetry is that it can capture the essence of something—be it events or emotions—down to a few lines; Sanna Wani’s My Grief, the Sun, does precisely this. Wani’s debut collection features deeply intimate poems that explore the intersections of religion, politics, family, nature, and geography—Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke also makes an appearance! Many of Wani’s poems are fantastical, some are rooted firmly in the ground, but all of them make for a fantastic read.
Such Big Dreams by Reema Patel 🍁
Another fantastic read is Reema Patel’s Such Big Dreams. Twenty-three-year-old Rakhi is overworked and underappreciated—and underestimated due to her past as an unhoused child— office assistant at Justice for All, a human rights law office in Mumbai. But when Rakhi’s new coworker, a nepotism hire by Justice for All’s celebrity ambassador, aging actress Rubina Mansoor—convinces her to show him the “real India,” she agrees in exchange for Alex agreeing to do something for her. However, what begins as a harmless transaction doesn’t remain that way. Reema Patel’s Such Big Dreams is an insightful, unflinchingly honest and entertaining novel about the difficult decisions and moral compromises we sometimes make to fulfill our (such big) dreams.
In the Dark We Forget by Sandra SG Wong 🍁
Sandra SG Wong’s In the Dark We Forget begins with a woman waking up on the side of a mountain highway, confused, alone, and unaware of who she is. As she pieces together her memories, Cleo Li discovers that she has a brother and parents who recently disappeared after winning the lottery—and the signs behind their disappearance seem to point to her. Cleo will discover heartbreaking truths about her family and the lies she buried under as she works to clear her name. In the Dark We Forget is an eerie and absorbing read that will keep you turning pages.
We Were Dreamers by Simu Liu 🍁
“This is the story I want to tell—a story about our little family of three that crossed the ocean from China to North America in the relentless pursuit of a better life. A story about the obstacles that nearly tore us apart, whether it was a clash of cultures, a gap of generations or simply our own stubbornness,” writes beloved Canadian actor Simu Liu in the first chapter of his authorial debut, We Were Dreamers. Told in three acts, We Were Dreamers blends the unique blend of humour and honesty in Liu’s social media posts to tell the extraordinary tale of how Liu went from a superhero at children’s birthday parties to playing the first Asian Marvel superhero on screen.
Looking for more good reads by Asian authors? Check out our other round-ups below:
- 8 Asian Romance Novels to Fall in Love With This Valentine’s Day
- 8 Asian YA Novels to Swoon Over this Year