Diversity + List of Books by 23 Asian American + other POC authors

Monday, June 30, 2014

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign struck a chord with me, especially as an Asian American. At the panel at BEA, an author had said that she read a book simply because there was an Asian-American character despite the fact the character was a stereotype. That resonated with me because I had a similar experience. There were a series of books that I read when I was younger where there was a Korean-American character. She was incredibly stereotyped-- she ate kimchi, was smart and her mom spoke broken English. I read the books anyway despite the fact I was repulsed and intrigued at the same time. Is this what people think we do? Eat ethnic food all the time, have parents who speak broken English and are smart? Amy Tan did a great piece about her mom's English, which to many others would seem broken but to her was perfect but that piece ("Mother Tongue" for anyone who wants to read it) was sensitive while this series was anything but sensitive. 

I want to be the hero of my own f*cking story, not a relegated stereotypical side character. As I grew up, I was excited to see more Asian-American authors writing and I continue to be amazed by all the different stories that are produced among other things. I am also excited how television is slowly changing and Time magazine did a great piece about how TV becoming more and more diverse. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign also coincided with Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage month, which I thought would be perfect for this post but May is over so I was going to hold off on this post until next May. But I asked myself, why only celebrate authors in a specific month? 

Diversity in Books

I've rounded up a list of adult and young adult books by Asian American authors as well as other POC authors, too, and I hope you'll find books that you like/are interested in. 


Young Adult Books I've Read

Jenny Han

The Summer that I Turned Pretty, To All the Boys I've Loved Before (Review) by Jenny Han -- One of my friends (coincidentally also named Jenny) had been pushing The Summer I Turned Pretty on me for the longest time and I finally got around to reading it. To All the Boys I've Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who's half-Korean, and what happens when letters she's written to her crushes are mailed

What's Left of Me by Kat Zhang

What's Left of Me by Kat Zhang (Review)-- Kat Zhang wrote this in high school and had it published during college. I feel a little inadequate but anyway, it's the sci-fi story of two sisters who live in one body and their separate dreams + wishes. It's a trilogy so do check out the rest of the books! 

Prophecy by Ellen Oh (Review+ Interview)-- Ancient Korean historical fiction! Ellen Oh also writes a lot of pieces about being a POC author that you should definitely read. 

Gabrielle Zevin Elsewhere

Elsewhere, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, All These Things I've Done [Birthright trilogy] (Review) by Gabrielle Zevin-- Gabrielle Zevin is one of my favorite YA authors of all time. I remember picking up Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac just because I liked the cover and it's been love-at-first sight ever since. Zevin also writes books for adults, most recently, The Storied Life of A. J Fikry, in which the main character is Southeast Asian and his adopted daughter is biracial. 

Dualed by Elsie Chapman

Dualed (Review+ Interview) + Divided by Elsie Chapman-- A duology that's set in the future, where everyone has a clone version of themselves and it's a fight to see which version survives. Divided just came out last month! The M.C's are POC, which I didn't initially realize and this is a problem. Why should characters be defaulted to white in my mind? (They shouldn't.)

Control by Lydia Kang

Control by Lydia Kang (Review)-- A YA novel filled with science (but enjoyable!) and dystopia. There are genetic mutations in the near future and some people are trying to take control of how these mutations work. 

Young Adult Books I Want to Read
Benjamin Alire Saenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz 
Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.
Since You Asked by Maurene Goo

Since You Asked by Maureen Goo

A humorous, debut novel about a Korean-American teenager who accidentally lands her own column in her high school newspaper, and proceeds to rant her way through the school year while struggling to reconcile the traditional Korean values of her parents with contemporary American culture.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie 

In his first book for young adults, bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by acclaimed artist Ellen Forney, that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

When I was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds-- I was reading his blog and he just has such a great conversational tone. I wish I could listen to him talk sometime in real life! 

In Bed Stuy, New York, a small misunderstanding can escalate into having a price on your head—even if you’re totally clean. This gritty, triumphant debut captures the heart and the hardship of life for an urban teen.

A lot of the stuff that gives my neighborhood a bad name, I don’t really mess with. The guns and drugs and all that, not really my thing.

Nah, not his thing. Ali’s got enough going on, between school and boxing and helping out at home. His best friend Noodles, though. Now there’s a dude looking for trouble—and, somehow, it’s always Ali around to pick up the pieces. But, hey, a guy’s gotta look out for his boys, right? Besides, it’s all small potatoes; it’s not like anyone’s getting hurt.

And then there’s Needles. Needles is Noodles’s brother. He’s got a syndrome, and gets these ticks and blurts out the wildest, craziest things. It’s cool, though: everyone on their street knows he doesn’t mean anything by it.

Yeah, it’s cool…until Ali and Noodles and Needles find themselves somewhere they never expected to be…somewhere they never should've been—where the people aren't so friendly, and even less forgiving.

None of the Above (4/25/15) by I.W. Gregario-- A senior in high school, Kristin Lattimer discovers that she's intersex (not quite a girl but not quite a boy either) and she deals with the ramifications of having her secret revealed to her entire school by her best friend. 
Falling into Place by Amy Zhang

Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang (9/14)-- Amy Zhang just graduated high school this year but she's already written a novel. I'm incredibly happy for her and I remember when she announced the news on Twitter.  It's the story of a girl who attempts to commit suicide, interwoven with physics. 


Adult Fiction Books I've Read

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (Review)-- Quite possibly one of the strongest debuts to come out this year. It's written beautifully and the story explores a lot of different themes at once. The middle daughter of a Chinese-American (mother: Caucasian, father: Chinese-American) family is found dead in a lake and the family struggles to come to terms with the death as well as themselves. 

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Lowland (Review), The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri-- Jhumpa Lahiri's writing is gorgeous and although her books are largely about Indian culture and Indian immigrants, there are themes that everyone can relate to. 

Steph Cha Follow Her Home

Follow Her Home (Review), Beware, Beware [August 2014](Review) by Steph Cha-- A set of books that follows amateur sleuth, Song around LA. Follow Her Home tackled the fetishization of Asian American women and Beware, Bewareasks readers to question the morality as well as possible justification of death. 

Mohsin Hamid The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Review) by Mohsin Hamed-- I actually read this for one of my classes and it's incredibly interesting. I blew through it in one go, despite the fact we were supposed to read it in sections, oops. It's the story of an Pakistani immigrant, Changez, who comes to the US for college (Princeton) and goes on to work for Underwood Samson. The 9/11 attack changes him as well as his outlook. 

Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok

Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok (Review)-- In an interview with The Writer, Jean Kwok said, "The book is also about poverty. It's about telling the story of the immigrants who are not heard. We all have the stereotype of the Asian American immigrant who is successful, who becomes a doctor or a lawyer, and this book is really about the ones who are left behind, the people who are invisible to us- the dishwashers and the taxi drivers and the pizza delivery guy- and about realizing that they all have their dreams and their hopes and their struggles as well. What are their lives like?" 

Southern Cross the Dog by Bill Cheng

Southern Cross the Dog by Bill Cheng (Review)-- What I find remarkable is that a POC author isn't writing about his heritage but another POC heritage (African American)  and Cheng does an incredibly great job channeling the South. 

The Thing Around Your Neck Chimamanda Adichie

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Adichie-- I knew about Americanah for a really long time and I had been meaning to read her work but it wasn't until college that I read her work. The Thing Around Your Neck is a series of short stories and the titular short story, The Thing Around Your Neck was one that I could relate to. 

Aunty Lee's Delights by Ovidia Yu

Aunty Lee's Delights by Ovidia Yu (Review) -- It's a Singaporean mystery by a well-known Singaporean playwright so she isn't quite Asian-American but I do think that it's worth reading authors who might not be American. Aunty Lee's Delights is about Aunty Lee, a rich woman who shuns the relaxing life of being a tai-tai, a rich idle woman, but instead creates a food-empire. A mystery soon is boiling under her nose when a woman fails to show up to Aunty Lee's dinner and another woman washes up dead at the local beach. It was really interesting to read about Singapore, a place I want to visit sometime as well as see how Asian auntie-ness is more of a universal occurrence, haha. 

The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara

The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara (Review)-- Based on loosely on the story of Dr. D. Carleton Gajdusek, a Nobel Prize winning scientist and molester of his adopted children, The People in the Trees is  wonderfully written and suspenseful novel that explores a lot of moral and ethical questions. 

Adult Fiction I Want to Read 

NW by Zadie Smith

NW by Zadie Smith -- One of my friends gave me an autographed copy of it and I still haven't touched it. I'm going to get through it by the end of the summer! Zadie Smith wrote a couple of interesting articles that I've read for class.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwon-- This has been on my radar since last year's BEA but I still haven't read it because I've been so busy. It's a satire of all the incredibly rich Asian people and their lifestyles. 

What are your favorite books by POC authors? Have you read any on this list? What books are you looking forward to? 

Part two of this post is here, with more Asian American authors and resources

Note: I kept Amy Tan and Haruki Murakami off this list because their works are well-known and I wanted to focus on authors whose works weren't as well known. I like Amy Tan's works, especially Joy Luck Club, as well as Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood. This list is by no means an exhaustive list of books by Asian American authors. I'm always glad to know of more POC authors, whether they're of AAPI heritage or not, so please let me know more, whether below in the comments, through email [hello[@]crazyredpen.com] or through Twitter

Edit: 8/2015 Edited for clarity. 


  1. I'm so excited to see Southern Cross the Dog on this list! It was one of my favorite books from last year and I think it was a little overlooked. Cheng has such an amazing voice and writes across cultures so well - I can't wait to see where he's going to go next.

  2. Yes! I'm so excited for him and how he was able to write about a culture that he wasn't a part of.

  3. Top of my head I know there's Malinda Lo and Yangsze Choo! Thank you sooo much for this list because yes! #WeNeedDiverseBooks and more people need to be represented. I'm quite horrified I haven't read a single book from this list (although I do own some and definitely intend to read them soon!) Crazy Rich Asians has actually been on my radar since last year ever since I heard it was set in Singapore and about the upper class which just makes me even more curious haha!

  4. Ah, I can't believe I left Malinda Lo off this list! I haven't heard of Yansze Choo so thanks for sharing! Aunty Lee's Delights is set in Singapore as well (written by a Singaporean,too)!

  5. Excellent list! Definitely can't leave Julie Kagawa off the list.

  6. Yes to Asian Americans! Asian pride, heh. But yes, I get so happy when Asian Americans choose to include diversity in their stories because if they don't, who else will? It's a start and a very satisfying start because #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

    I plan to read To All the Boys I've Loved Before because I love stories that include letters in any form. I also plan to read Burn for Burn trilogy this summer.

    I've read Gabrielle Zevin's All These Things I've Done and loved it and I enjoyed Kat Zhang's What's Left of Me.

    I think you'll really like Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe because it's such a beautiful story and very well-written. I'm about halfway done with Falling into Place and wow, such a gripping story. You'll love it, I'm sure.

    I borrowed Mohsin Hamid's Moth Smoke from my sister a couple of years ago but still haven't got around to reading it. Oops.

    I actually really want to read all of the authors you mentioned because I want to support what they write. I didn't know about a couple of them so thanks for that.

    P.S. My mind is blank on any other Asian American writers. I'll tell you if someone comes to mind and I hope you write a part II of this because #WeNeedDiverseBooks. =)

  7. Thank you! I'll definitely keep her in mind if I do a part II for this post! :)

  8. I'll keep the idea in mind! You put it so well, " I get so happy when Asian Americans choose to include diversity in their stories because if they don't, who else will?" SO TRUE! If we don't do it, who will (+ who will have correct portrayals of us). However, if POC authors don't, I don't think people should disregard their works because these authors are role models. Growing up, I couldn't really name that many YA/middle-grade Asian authors but now, there are so many.

    I've heard great things about Mohsin Hamid's latest book, How to Become Filthy Rich in Asia, which might be good to read! If Moth Smoke isn't happening, maybe try reading a different work?

  9. This is such a fantastic list! It was awesome to see some books I've read and more that I need to add to my reading list.

    Tanya Patrice

  10. Every Book a WorldJuly 7, 2014 at 12:07 AM

    I might have missed it, but I didn't see Marie Lu on this list! She needs to go on here!

  11. I'm very happy that you found books to add to your list!

  12. I've been meaning to read Crazy Rich Asians for over a year now because it's set in Singapore but for some reason, I still haven't. I plan to read To All the Boys I've Loved Before, and Since You Asked in the coming weeks Although, when I first got hold of these two books, I wasn't even aware that the MCs are POCs. Haha.

    A lot of the time, I don't pick up books specifically because of all that. Mostly because I go into them unaware. But if I do know that a book is culturally diverse, I almost automatically want to read it.

    At the same time, books that have token POCs or totally misrepresent particular cultures make me incredibly mad. There was a book last year that I read, it was set during Ramadan. I was so excited because it was about a Muslim girl living in the US. Turns out it was a dud. Islam was so light-heartedly misrepresented, I was incensed.

    Other than the books you have listed, I recently read and loved There Will Come a Time by Carrie Arcos. The MC is Filipino-American. The book could've worked even if he had been white but the little things here and there injected about Filipino culture without resorting to any stereotypes was good.

  13. I don't necessarily pick a book because of POC authors either, but I'm happy that there is a push to be diverse. However, if the book does have POC authors, it should be an accurate portrayal. I totally feel the same when when the story is a dud, especially since POC characters don't occur often.

    Thanks for the additional suggestions! :)


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