I’m on a diversity kick right now. With recent news in the publishing world stirring up age-old debate on diversity (I’m not linking to anything because I want this post to focus–and celebrate–diverse books), I thought maybe it’s good to take a break from all the yapping and–for supporters of diverse books–to put our money where our mouth is. So! Go add these books to your TBR list and read them or buy them and read them, and then write reviews to spread the word, ‘mkay?
For this particular post, I’m only listing books with Asian MCs. Diversity or “Other” is such a broad term encompassing race, gender/sexual orientation, disability, mental health, chronic illnesses, etc. that I can’t possibly cover them all in one Manic Monday post. So, this means, you’ll just have to keep an eye for my future posts, right?
And if you have any excellent recommendations, fire away in the comment section!
(Note: These books are not necessarily written by Asian authors. I’m only looking for Asian characters. If you want a list of Asian American authors, check out Diversity in YA: 10 New and Debut Asian American YA Authors for starters.)
- THE WALLED CITY by Ryan Graudin (Hong Kong, Realistic Fiction, Based on a historical city)
730. That’s how many days I’ve been trapped.
18. That’s how many days I have left to find a way out.
DAI, trying to escape a haunting past, traffics drugs for the most ruthless kingpin in the Walled City. But in order to find the key to his freedom, he needs help from someone with the power to be invisible….
JIN hides under the radar, afraid the wild street gangs will discover her biggest secret: Jin passes as a boy to stay safe. Still, every chance she gets, she searches for her lost sister….
MEI YEE has been trapped in a brothel for the past two years, dreaming of getting out while watching the girls who try fail one by one. She’s about to give up, when one day she sees an unexpected face at her window…..
In this innovative and adrenaline-fueled novel, they all come together in a desperate attempt to escape a lawless labyrinth before the clock runs out.
I just finished this last week! Based on Kowloon City in Hong Kong, THE WALLED CITY is as gritty and lawless and dark as the inspiration. Drugs, human trafficking, street gangs, murder…Ryan Graudin brings the despairing reality of this place to life through the eyes of three characters: Dai, Jin Ling, and Mei Yee. Atmospheric with pretty writing.
- BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS by Shannon Hale (Set in Central Asia, Fairytale Retelling)
When Dashti, a maid, and Lady Saren, her mistress, are shut in a tower for seven years because of Saren’s refusal to marry a man she despises, the two prepare for a very long and dark imprisonment.
As food runs low and the days go from broiling hot to freezing cold, it is all Dashti can do to keep them fed and comfortable. With the arrival outside the tower of Saren’s two suitors–one welcome, the other decidedly less so–the girls are confronted with both hope and great danger, and Dashti must make the desperate choices of a girl whose life is worth more than she knows.
With Shannon Hale’s lyrical language, this little-known classic fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm is reimagined and reset on the central Asian steppes; it is a completely unique retelling filled with adventure and romance, drama and disguise.
I read this years ago, but I still remember how much I loved it. I’m a fan of Ms. Hale. Beautiful prose and wonderfully nuanced characters.
- KEEPING CORNER by Kashmira Sheth (Historical, India, Realistic Fiction)
Pretty as a peacock, twelve-year-old Leela has been spoiled all her life. She doesn’t care for school and barely marks the growing unrest between the British colonists and her own countrymen. Why should she? Her future has been planned since her engagement at two and marriage at nine.
Leela’s whole life changes, though, when her husband dies. She’s now expected to behave like a proper widow: shaving her head and trading her jewel-toned saris for rough, earth-colored ones. Leela is considered unlucky now, and will have to stay confined to her house for a year—keep corner—in preparation for a life of mourning a boy she barely knew.
When her schoolteacher hears of her fate, she offers Leela lessons at home. For the first time, despite her confinement, Leela opens her eyes to the changing world around her. India is suffering from a severe drought, and farmers are unable to pay taxes to the British. She learns about a new leader of the people, a man named Gandhi, who starts a political movement and practices satyagraha—non-violent protest against the colonists as well as the caste system. The quiet strength of satyagraha may liberate her country. Could she use the same path to liberate herself?
Another book that I’ve read years ago, and yet, I still remember the title and the author as clearly as if it was only yesterday. Leela’s character arc is pretty impressive, and she turns from a spoiled little girl to a strong woman who must fight for what she believes in, in a culture that is limiting and oppressive to women.
- DAUGHTER OF XANADU by Dori Jones Yang (Fantasy, Mongolian, Historical)
Athletic and strong willed, Princess Emmajin’s determined to do what no woman has done before: become a warrior in the army of her grandfather, the Great Khan Khubilai. In the Mongol world the only way to achieve respect is to show bravery and win glory on the battlefield. The last thing she wants is the distraction of the foreigner Marco Polo, who challenges her beliefs in the gardens of Xanadu. Marco has no skills in the “manly arts” of the Mongols: horse racing, archery, and wrestling. Still, he charms the Khan with his wit and story-telling. Emmajin sees a different Marco as they travel across 13th-century China, hunting ‘dragons’ and fighting elephant-back warriors. Now she faces a different battle as she struggles with her attraction towards Marco and her incredible goal of winning fame as a soldier.
Haven’t read this, but a Mongolian Princess? Yes, please!
- SERPENTINE by Cindy Pon (Fantasy, Chinese)
SERPENTINE is a sweeping fantasy set in the ancient Kingdom of Xia and inspired by the rich history of Chinese mythology.
Lush with details from Chinese folklore, SERPENTINE tells the coming of age story of Skybright, a young girl who worries about her growing otherness. As she turns sixteen, Skybright notices troubling changes. By day, she is a companion and handmaid to the youngest daughter of a very wealthy family. But nighttime brings with it a darkness that not even daybreak can quell.
When her plight can no longer be denied, Skybright learns that despite a dark destiny, she must struggle to retain her sense of self – even as she falls in love for the first time.
Another book that I really, really want to read!
- THE FIRE HORSE GIRL by Kay Honeyman (Historical, Chinese)
Jade Moon is a Fire Horse—the worst sign in the Chinese zodiac for girls, said to make them stubborn, willful, and far too imaginative. But while her family despairs of marrying her off, she has a passionate heart and powerful dreams, and wants only to find a way to make them come true.
Then a young man named Sterling Promise comes to their village to offer Jade Moon and her father a chance to go to America. While Sterling Promise’s smooth manners couldn’t be more different from her own impulsive nature, Jade Moon falls in love with him on the long voyage. But America in 1923 doesn’t want to admit many Chinese, and when they are detained at Angel Island, the “Ellis Island of the West”, she discovers a betrayal that destroys all her dreams. To get into America, much less survive there, Jade Moon will have to use all her stubbornness and will to break a new path… one as brave and dangerous as only a Fire Horse girl can imagine.
I’ve been reading a historical nonfiction about the Japanese Americans in the US pre-WWII and during, and I remember reading how before the Japanese came to America, there were Chinese laborers working to build transcontinental railroad in the 1860s. Congress would later pass laws prohibiting further Chinese immigration. This book, set in 1923, falls in that era. Which makes me want to get this book, like right now.
- WRITTEN IN THE STARS by Aisha Saeed (Contemporary, Romance, Pakistani/South Asian MC)
This heart-wrenching novel explores what it is like to be thrust into an unwanted marriage. Has Naila’s fate been written in the stars? Or can she still make her own destiny?
Naila’s conservative immigrant parents have always said the same thing: She may choose what to study, how to wear her hair, and what to be when she grows up—but they will choose her husband. Following their cultural tradition, they will plan an arranged marriage for her. And until then, dating—even friendship with a boy—is forbidden. When Naila breaks their rule by falling in love with Saif, her parents are livid. Convinced she has forgotten who she truly is, they travel to Pakistan to visit relatives and explore their roots. But Naila’s vacation turns into a nightmare when she learns that plans have changed—her parents have found her a husband and they want her to marry him, now! Despite her greatest efforts, Naila is aghast to find herself cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. Her only hope of escape is Saif . . . if he can find her before it’s too late.
I’ve heard lots of good things about this one!
- STORMDANCER by Jay Kristoff (Fantasy, Japanese, Steampunk)
Arashitoras are supposed to be extinct. So when Yukiko and her warrior father Masaru are sent to capture one for the Shõgun, they fear that their lives are over – everyone knows what happens to those who fail the Lord of the Shima Isles. But the mission proves less impossible and more deadly than anyone expects. Soon Yukiko finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in her country’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled arashitora for company. Although she can hear his thoughts, and saved his life, all she knows for certain is he’d rather see her dead than help her. Yet trapped together in the forest, Yukiko and the beast soon discover a bond that neither of them expected.
Meanwhile, the country around them verges on collapse. A toxic fuel is choking the land, the machine-powered Lotus Guild is publicly burning those they deem Impure, and the Shõgun cares for nothing but his own dominion. Authority has always made Yukiko, but her world changes when she meets Kin, a young man with secrets, and the rebel Kagé cabal. She learns the horrifying extent of the Shõgun’s crimes, both against her country and her family.
Returning to the city, Yukiko is determined to make the Shõgun pay – but what can one girl and a flightless arashitora do against the might of an empire?
That cover alone…*drools* Who doesn’t like butt-kicking Asian heroines, right? The entire series is on my TBR list.
- KIRA-KIRA by Cynthia Kadohata (Japanese American, Historical)
kira-kira (kee ra kee ra): glittering; shining Glittering. That’s how Katie Takeshima’s sister, Lynn, makes everything seem. The sky is kira-kira because its color is deep but see-through at the same time. The sea is kira-kira for the same reason. And so are people’s eyes.
When Katie and her family move from a Japanese community in Iowa to the Deep South of Georgia, it’s Lynn who explains to her why people stop on the street to stare. And it’s Lynn who, with her special way of viewing the world, teaches Katie to look beyond tomorrow.
But when Lynn becomes desperately ill, and the whole family begins to fall apart, it is up to Katie to find a way to remind them all that there is always something glittering — kira-kira — in the future.
My daughter read this and she loved it! I need to get a copy so I can read it, too.
- GIRL IN TRANSLATION by Jean Kwok (Chinese American, Contemporary)
When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life like the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family’s future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition. Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles.
Through Kimberly’s story, author Jean Kwok, who also emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires, exposing a world that we rarely hear about.
Written in an indelible voice that dramatizes the tensions of an immigrant girl growing up between two cultures, surrounded by a language and world only half understood, Girl in Translation is an unforgettable and classic novel of an American immigrant-a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation.
Yes to this!
There are so many great books out there–seriously, while planning this post, I had to make a list of books either written by Asian authors or books with Asian characters, and my list turned out to be so long, I had a hard time figuring out what to include in this post. Which is great, yeah? I’m going to make a conscious effort to include diverse books in my TBR-now pile to support diversity in literature.
What is on your TBR pile?