Happy AAPI Heritage Month! As always, we’re celebrating with fabulous books starring Asian American and Pacific Islander protagonists, written by AAPI authors! Titles posted in full in previous years will not be included here, so for even more recs, check out previous years’ posts!
Books to Buy Now
She is a Haunting by Trang Thanh Tran
When Jade Nguyen arrives in Vietnam for a visit with her estranged father, she has one goal: survive five weeks pretending to be a happy family in the French colonial house Ba is restoring. She’s always lied to fit in, so if she’s straight enough, Vietnamese enough, American enough, she can get out with the college money he promised.
But the house has other plans. Night after night, Jade wakes up paralyzed. The walls exude a thrumming sound while bugs leave their legs and feelers in places they don’t belong. She finds curious traces of her ancestors in the gardens they once tended. And at night Jade can’t ignore the ghost of the beautiful bride who leaves cryptic warnings: Don’t eat.
Neither Ba nor her sweet sister Lily believe that there is anything strange happening. With help from a delinquent girl, Jade will prove this house–the home they have always wanted–will not rest until it destroys them. Maybe, this time, she can keep her family together. As she roots out the house’s rot, she must also face the truth of who she is and who she must become to save them all.
I Will Find You Again by Sarah Lyu
Welcome to Meadowlark, Long Island—expensive homes and good schools, ambition and loneliness. Meet Chase Ohara and Lia Vestiano: the driven overachiever and the impulsive wanderer, the future CEO and the free spirit. Best friends for years—weekend trips to Montauk, sleepovers on a yacht—and then, first love. True love.
But when Lia disappears, Chase’s life turns into a series of grim snapshots. Anger. Grief. Running. Pink pills in an Altoids tin. A cheating ring at school. Heartbreak and lies. A catastrophic secret.
And the shocking truth that will change everything about the way Chase sees Lia—and herself.
Forget Me Not by Alyson Derrick
What would you do if you forgot the love of your life ever even existed?
Stevie and Nora had a love. A secret, epic, once-in-a-lifetime kind of love. They also had a plan: to leave their small, ultra-conservative town and families behind after graduation and move to California, where they could finally stop hiding that love.
But then Stevie has a terrible fall. And when she comes to, she can remember nothing of the last two years—not California, not coming to terms with her sexuality, not even Nora. Suddenly, Stevie finds herself in a life she doesn’t quite understand, one where she’s estranged from her parents, drifting away from her friends, lying about the hours she works, dating a boy she can’t remember crushing on, and headed towards a future that isn’t at all what her fifteen-year-old self would have envisioned.
And Nora finds herself…forgotten. Can the two beat the odds a second time and find their way back together when “together” itself is just a lost memory?
Fake Dates and Mooncakes by Sher Lee
Dylan Tang wants to win a Mid-Autumn Festival mooncake-making competition for teen chefs—in memory of his mom, and to bring much-needed publicity to his aunt’s struggling Chinese takeout in Brooklyn.
Enter Theo Somers: charming, wealthy, with a smile that makes Dylan’s stomach do backflips. AKA a distraction. Their worlds are sun-and-moon apart, but Theo keeps showing up. He even convinces Dylan to be his fake date at a family wedding in the Hamptons.
In Theo’s glittering world of pomp, privilege, and crazy rich drama, their romance is supposed to be just pretend . . . but Dylan finds himself falling for Theo. For real. Then Theo’s relatives reveal their true colors—but with the mooncake contest looming, Dylan can’t risk being sidetracked by rich-people problems.
Can Dylan save his family’s business and follow his heart—or will he fail to do both?
Chasing Pacquiao by Rod Pulido
Self preservation. That’s Bobby’s motto for surviving his notoriously violent high school unscathed. Being out and queer would put an unavoidable target on his back, especially in a Filipino community that frowns on homosexuality. It’s best to keep his head down, get good grades, and stay out of trouble.
But when Bobby is unwillingly outed in a terrible way, he no longer has the luxury of being invisible. A vicious encounter has him scrambling for a new way to survive—by fighting back. Bobby is inspired by champion Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao to take up boxing and challenge his tormentor. Then Pacquiao publicly declares his stance against queer people, and Bobby’s faith—in his hero and in himself—is shaken to the core.
Only This Beautiful Moment by Abdi Nazemian
2019. Moud is an out gay teen living in Los Angeles with his distant father, Saeed. When Moud gets the news that his grandfather in Iran is dying, he accompanies his dad to Tehran, where the revelation of family secrets will force Moud into a new understanding of his history, his culture, and himself.
1978. Saeed is an engineering student with a promising future ahead of him in Tehran. But when his parents discover his involvement in the country’s burgeoning revolution, they send him to safety in America, a country Saeed despises. And even worse—he’s forced to live with the American grandmother he never knew existed.
1939. Bobby, the son of a calculating Hollywood stage mother, lands a coveted MGM studio contract. But the fairy-tale world of glamour he’s thrust into has a dark side. Bobby is forced to hide his sexuality for fear of losing everything.
Set against the backdrop of Tehran and Los Angeles, this tale of intergenerational trauma and love is an ode to the fragile bonds of family, the hidden secrets of history, and all the beautiful moments that make us who we are today.
Girls Like Girls by Hayley Kiyoko
It’s summertime and 17-year-old Coley has found herself alone, again. Forced to move to rural Oregon after just losing her mother, she is in no position to risk her already fragile heart. But when she meets Sonya, the attraction is immediate.
Coley worries she isn’t worthy of love. Up until now, everyone she’s loved has left her. And Sonya’s never been with a girl before. What if she’s too afraid to show up for Coley? What if by opening her heart, Coley’s risking it all?
They both realize that when things are pushed down, and feelings are forced to shrivel away, Coley and Sonya will be the ones to shrink. It’s not until they accept the love they fear and deserve most, that suddenly the song makes sense.
Your Driver is Waiting by Priya Guns
Damani is tired. Her father just died on the job at a fast-food joint, and now she lives paycheck to paycheck in a basement, caring for her mom and driving for an app that is constantly cutting her take. The city is roiling in protests–everybody’s in solidarity with somebody–but while she keeps hearing that they’re fighting for change on behalf of people like her, she literally can’t afford to pay attention.
Then she gives a ride to Jolene (five stars, obviously). Jolene seems like she could be the perfect girlfriend–attentive, attractive, an ally–and their chemistry is off the charts. Jolene’s done the reading, she goes to every protest, and she says all the right things. So maybe Damani can look past the one thing that’s holding her back: she’s never dated anyone with money before, not to mention a white girl with money. But just as their romance intensifies and Damani finally lets her guard down, Jolene does something unforgivable, setting off an explosive chain of events.
The Dawnhounds by Sascha Stronach
The port city of Hainak is alive: its buildings, its fashion, even its weapons. But, after a devastating war and a sweeping biotech revolution, all its inhabitants want is peace, no one more so than Yat Jyn-Hok a reformed-thief-turned-cop who patrols the streets at night.
Yat has recently been demoted on the force due to “lifestyle choices” after being caught at a gay club. She’s barely holding it together, haunted by memories of a lover who vanished and voices that float in and out of her head like radio signals. When she stumbles across a dead body on her patrol, two fellow officers gruesomely murder her and dump her into the harbor. Unfortunately for them, she wakes up.
Resurrected by an ancient power, she finds herself with the new ability to manipulate life force. Quickly falling in with the pirate crew who has found her, she must race against time to stop a plague from being unleashed by the evil that has taken root in Hainak.
Flux by Jinwoo Chong (21st)
Four days before Christmas, 8-year-old Bo loses his mother in a tragic accident, 28-year-old Brandon loses his job after a hostile takeover of his big-media employer, and 48-year-old Blue, a key witness in a criminal trial against an infamous now-defunct tech startup, struggles to reconnect with his family.
So begins Jinwoo Chong’s dazzling, time-bending debut that blends elements of neo-noir and speculative fiction as the lives of Bo, Brandon, and Blue begin to intersect, uncovering a vast network of secrets and an experimental technology that threatens to upend life itself. Intertwined with them is the saga of an iconic ’80s detective show, Raider, whose star actor has imploded spectacularly after revelations of long-term, concealed abuse.
Flux is a haunting and sometimes shocking exploration of the cyclical nature of grief, of moving past trauma, and of the pervasive nature of whiteness within the development of Asian identity in America.
Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion by Bushra Rehman
Razia Mirza grows up amid the wild grape vines and backyard sunflowers of Corona, Queens, with her best friend, Saima, by her side. When a family rift drives the girls apart, Razia’s heart is broken. She finds solace in Taslima, a new girl in her close-knit Pakistani-American community. They embark on a series of small rebellions: listening to scandalous music, wearing miniskirts, and cutting school to explore the city.
When Razia is accepted to Stuyvesant, a prestigious high school in Manhattan, the gulf between the person she is and the daughter her parents want her to be, widens. At Stuyvesant, Razia meets Angela and is attracted to her in a way that blossoms into a new understanding. When their relationship is discovered by an Aunty in the community, Razia must choose between her family and her own future.
Punctuated by both joy and loss, full of ’80s music and beloved novels, Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion is a new classic: a fiercely compassionate coming-of-age story of a girl struggling to reconcile her heritage and faith with her desire to be true to herself.
Greta & Valdin by Rebecca K. Reilly
‘The modern world is too much for me. I feel like I’m George of the Jungle.’ —Greta
‘At the moment, for personal reasons, I don’t like reading things about people being in love with each other.’ —Valdin
Valdin is still in love with his ex-boyfriend Xabi, who used to drive around Auckland in a ute but now drives around Buenos Aires in one. Greta is in love with her fellow English tutor Holly, who doesn’t know how to pronounce Greta’s surname, Vladisavljevic, properly.
From their Auckland apartment, brother and sister must navigate the intricate paths of modern romance as well as weather the small storms of their eccentric Māori–Russian–Catalonian family. This beguiling and hilarious novel by Adam Foundation Prize winner Rebecca K Reilly owes as much to Shakespeare as it does to Tinder. Set in a world that is deeply familiar (but also a bit sexier and more stylish than the real one), Greta and Valdin will speak to anyone who has had their heart broken, or has decided that they don’t want to be a physicist anymore, or has wondered about all of the things they don’t know about their family.
Chlorine by Jade Song
Ren Yu is a swimmer. Her daily life starts and ends with the pool. Her teammates are her only friends. Her coach, her guiding light. If she swims well enough, she will be scouted, get a scholarship, go to a good school. Her parents will love her. Her coach will be kind to her. She will have a good life.
But these are human concerns. These are the concerns of those confined to land, those with legs. Ren grew up on stories of creatures of the deep, of the oceans and the rivers. Ones that called sailors to their doom. Ones that dragged them down and drowned them. Ones that feasted on their flesh. Ones of the creature that she’s always longed to become: mermaid.
Ren aches to be in the water. She dreams of the scent of chlorine–the feel of it on her skin. And she will do anything she can to make a life for herself where she can be free. No matter the pain. No matter what anyone else thinks. No matter how much blood she has to spill.
Your Love is Not Good by Johanna Hedva
At an otherwise forgettable party in Los Angeles, a young Korean American painter spots a woman who instantly controls the room: gorgeous and distant and utterly white, the center of everyone’s attention. Haunted into adulthood by her Korean father’s abandonment of his family, as well as the specter of her beguiling, abusive white mother, the painter finds herself caught in a perfect trap. She wants Hanne, or wants to be her, or to sully her, or destroy her, or consume her, or some confusion of all the above. Since she’s an artist, she will use art to get closer to Hanne, beginning a series of paintings with her new muse as model. As for Hanne, what does she want? Her whiteness seems sometimes as cruel as a new sheet of paper: is there any there there?
When the paintings of Hanne become a hit, resulting in the artist’s first sold-out show, she resolves to bring her new muse with her to Berlin, to continue their work, and her seduction. But, just when the painter is on the verge of her long sought-after breakthrough, a petition started by a Black performance artist begins making the rounds in the art community, calling for the boycott of major museums and art galleries for their imperialist and racist practices.
Torn between her desire to support the petition, to be a success, and to “have” Hanne in her life, the painter begins acting more and more unstable and erratic, unwilling to cut loose any one of her warring ambitions, yet unable to accommodate all. Is it any wonder so many artists self-destruct so spectacularly? Is it perhaps just a bit exciting to think she could too?
Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency by Chen Chen
What happens when everything falls away, when those you call on in times of need are themselves calling out for rescue?
In his highly anticipated second collection, Chen Chen continues his investigation of family, both blood and chosen, examining what one inherits and what one invents, as a queer Asian American living through an era of Trump, mass shootings, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Always at work in the wrecked heart of this new collection is a switchboard operator, picking up and connecting calls. Raucous 2 a.m. prank calls. Whispered-in-a-classroom emergency calls. And sometimes, its pages record the dropping of a call, a failure or refusal to pick up. With irrepressible humor and play, these anarchic poems celebrate life, despite all that would crush aliveness.
Hybrid in form and set in New England, West Texas, and a landlocked province of China, among other places, Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency refuses neat categorizations and pat answers. Instead, the book offers an insatiable curiosity about how it is we keep finding ways to hold onto one another.
Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon
Books to Preorder
All the Right Notes by Dominic Lim (June 6, 2023)
Quito Cruz might be a genius piano player and composer in New York City now but it doesn’t mean that he’s any closer to his Broadway dream. Although Quito knows what the problem is. Or rather who. Because ever since that night in college—with pretty-boy jock Emmett Aoki—his inspiration has been completely MIA . . .
Now Quito’s dad wants him to put on a charity performance in his hometown. And there’s one hella big string attached: convince Emmett—now one of Hollywood’s hottest celebrities—to perform.
It’s all shaping up to be the biggest musical fiasco of Quito’s life. Especially when Emmett agrees to attend, and Quito realizes that undeniable vibe between them is stronger than ever. Because there’s nothing simple about falling for a movie star . . . even when he’s pitch-perfect.
All the Yellow Suns by Malavika Kannan (July 11th)
Sixteen-year-old Maya Krishnan is fiercely protective of her friends, immigrant community, and single mother, but she knows better than to rock the boat in her conservative Florida suburb. Her classmate Juneau Zale is the polar opposite: she’s a wealthy white heartbreaker who won’t think twice before capsizing that boat.
When Juneau invites Maya to join the Pugilists—a secret society of artists, vandals, and mischief-makers who fight for justice at their school—Maya descends into the world of change-making and resistance. Soon, she and Juneau forge a friendship that inspires Maya to confront the challenges in her own life.
But as their relationship grows romantic, painful, and twisted, Maya begins to suspect that there’s a whole different person beneath Juneau’s painted-on facade. Now Maya must learn to speak her truth in this mysterious, mixed-up world—even if it results in heartbreak.
Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon
What a Desi Girl Wants by Sabina Khan (July 18, 2023)
Mehar hasn’t been back to India since she and her mother moved away when she was only four. Hasn’t visited her father, her grandmother, her family, or the home where she grew up. Why would she? Her father made it clear that she’s not his priority when he chose not to come to the US with them.
But when her father announces his engagement to socialite Naz, Mehar reluctantly agrees to return for the wedding. Maybe she and her father can heal their broken relationship. And after all, her father is Indian royalty, and his home is a palace–the wedding is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime affair.
While her father still doesn’t make the time for her, Mehar barely cares once she meets Sufiya, her grandmother’s assistant, and one of the most grounded, thoughtful, kind people she’s ever met! Though they come from totally different worlds, their friendship slowly starts to blossom into something more . . . Mehar thinks.
Meanwhile, Mehar’s dislike for Naz and her social media influencer daughter, Aleena, deepens. She can tell that the two of them are just using her father for his money. Mehar’s starting to think that putting a stop to this wedding might be the best thing for everyone involved.
But what happens when telling her father the truth about Naz and Aleena means putting her relationship with Sufiya at risk . . .
Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon
Firebird by Sunmi (July 18th)
Caroline Kim is feeling the weight of sophomore year. When she starts tutoring infamous senior Kimberly Park-Ocampo—a charismatic lesbian, friend to rich kids and punks alike—Caroline is flustered . . . but intrigued
Their friendship kindles and before they know it, the two are sneaking out for late-night drives, bonding beneath the stars over music, dreams, and a shared desire of getting away from it all.
A connection begins to smolder . . . but will feelings of guilt and the mounting pressure of life outside of these adventures extinguish their spark before it catches fire?
Rana Joon and the One and Only Now by Shideh Etaat (July 25, 2023)
Perfect Iranian girls are straight A students, always polite, and grow up to marry respectable Iranian boys. But it’s the San Fernando Valley in 1996, and Rana Joon is far from perfect—she smokes weed and loves Tupac, and she has a secret: she likes girls.
As if that weren’t enough, her best friend, Louie—the one who knew her secret and encouraged her to live in the moment—died almost a year ago, and she’s still having trouble processing her grief. To honor him, Rana enters the rap battle he dreamed of competing in, even though she’s terrified of public speaking.
But the clock is ticking. With the battle getting closer every day, she can’t decide whether to use one of Louie’s pieces or her own poetry, her family is coming apart, and she might even be falling in love. To get herself to the stage and fulfill her promise before her senior year ends, Rana will have to learn to speak her truth and live in the one and only now.
Kween by Vichet Chum (October 3, 2023)
Soma Kear’s verses have gone viral. Trouble is, she didn’t exactly think her slam poetry video through. All she knew was that her rhymes were urgent. On fire. An expression of where she was, and that place…was a hot mess.
Following her Ba’s deportation back to Cambodia, everything’s changed. Her Ma is away trying to help Ba adjust to his new life, and her older sister has taken charge with a new authoritarian tone. Meanwhile, Soma’s trending video pushes her to ask if it’s time to level up. With her school’s spoken word contest looming, Soma must decide: Is she brave enough to put herself out there? To publicly reveal her fears of Ba not returning? To admit that things may never be the same?
With every line she spits, Soma searches for a way to make sense of the world around her. The answers are at the mic.
Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant by Curtis Chin (October 17, 2023)
Welcome to Chung’s. For here or to go?
Nineteen eighties Detroit was a volatile place to live, but above the fray stood a safe haven: Chung’s Cantonese Cuisine, where anyone—from the city’s first Black mayor to the local drag queens, from a big-time Hollywood star to elderly Jewish couples—could sit down for a warm, home-cooked meal. Here was where, beneath a bright-red awning and surrounded by his multigenerational family, filmmaker and activist Curtis Chin came of age; where he learned to embrace his identity as a gay ABC, or American-born Chinese; where he navigated the divided city’s spiraling misfortunes; and where—between helpings of almond boneless chicken, sweet-and-sour pork, and some of his own, less-savory culinary concoctions—he realized just how much he had to offer to the world, to his beloved family, and to himself.
Served up by the cofounder of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and structured around the very menu that graced the tables of Chung’s, Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant is both a memoir and an invitation: to step inside one boy’s childhood oasis, scoot into a vinyl booth, and grow up with him—and perhaps even share something off the secret menu.
Gruesome Gruesome Faces by Linda Cheng (November 7, 2023)
After a huge scandal that ended her pop idol career, eighteen-year-old Sunny Lee spends her days longing for the past and cyber-stalking her former bandmate, Candie. When Sunny learns that Candie is attending an intensive workshop that promises stardom, she auditions and enters the program, desperate for one last shot at her dreams and a chance to mend their broken relationship.
But Sunny’s hopes are dashed when a hostile Candie leaves her to struggle alone through the grueling training. Things only get worse as Sunny notices eerie happenings as the workshop goes on – strange injuries and even stranger changes to her competitors bodies that quickly turn grisly as the girls begin to drop one by one.
Determined to survive, Sunny teams up with her fiercest competitor, a razor-tongued mean girl, as they race to expose just what’s behind the carnage. But when traumatic memories resurface and ghostly apparitions start haunting the halls, Sunny begins to question everything and everyone, including her own unravelling mind.
Just Happy to Be Here by Naomi Kanakia (January 2, 2024)
I’ll be honest I know nothing about this book other than that it’s by Naomi Kanakia and has an Indian American trans girl protag. Felt like enough for me to have already preordered it.
Dear Wendy by Ann Zhao (April 16, 2024)
Sophie Chi is in her first year at Wellesley College (despite her parents’ wishes that she attends a “real” university) and has long accepted her aromantic and asexual identities. Despite knowing she’ll never fall in love, she enjoys learning about relationships and putting that research to use to help people. And what better way to do that than by running an Instagram account that offers advice to the students at her college, somewhere in between classes, morning runs, and extracurriculars? No one except her roommate knows that she’s behind the incredibly popular “Dear Wendy” account.
Meanwhile, Joanna “Jo” Ephron is also a first-year student at Wellesley but when they create the account “Sincerely Wanda” to show one of their roommates why she needs to dump her boyfriend, they don’t expect it to amount to anything more. After all, Jo’s account isn’t meant to be serious—not like Dear Wendy’s. But it seems more and more students appreciate her humorous answers to followers’ dilemmas, and she may end up encroaching on Wendy’s territory a little. And now the two accounts might have a rivalry of sorts? Oops. As if Jo’s not busy enough having existential crises over the fact that she’ll never truly be loved or be enough, gender, and her few friends finding The One and forgetting her!
Tensions are rising online, but Sophie and Jo start getting closer in real life, especially after they realize their shared aroace identity. As their friendship develops and they work together to start a campus organization for other a-spec students, can their growing bond survive if they learn just who’s behind the Wendy and Wanda accounts?
Books to Add to Your TBR
- The Breakup Lists by Adib Khorram
- The Cuffing Season by Lyla Lee