May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month where America celebrates the culture and generations of contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. As bibliophiles, this gives us 31 opportunities to add one, two, or probably a few more books written by people from the Asian and Pacific Island Diaspora to our ever growing TBR Lists. Whether you are looking for the next great novel by an Asian American (or Pacific Islander) author, want to meet an awesome Asian American protagonist, or need to read more stories centering Pacific Islanders, we have 31 books from various genres and for readers of all ages to satiate any book lover’s diverse reading appetite. We are obviously providing only a sliver of the books from Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, so we hope our list inspires you to find #ownvoices books to add to your reading list.
These books range from the perfect picture books for babies and beginning readers to chapter books for middle grade readers who are almost ready for YA literature.
A Different Pond by Bao Phi (Author) and Thi Bui (Illustrator)
Based on Phi’s childhood in Minneapolis, a young boy wakes up early to join his father on a fishing trip at a small, local pond. However, unlike other fishers who fish for recreation, the boy and his father catch fish to feed their family. While waiting for a good catch, the boy’s father shares stories about life in their homeland of Vietnam.
Drawn Together by Minh Lê (Author) and Dan Santat (Illustrator)
When a young boy visits his grandfather, their language barrier leads to an awkward meeting full of confusion, frustration, and silence. However, once they sit down to draw together, they realize their shared love for art and storytelling. Something magical happens, and the two of them form a bond that is stronger than words can say.
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
It is 1947. India has gained independence from British rule. The land has separated into two countries, Pakistan and India, but the divide has created tension between Hindus and Muslims. Hundreds of thousands of people are killed while crossing the borders. Nisha, a 12-year-old girl who is both Muslim and Hindu, doesn’t know where she belongs anymore. When her Papa decides it’s too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees in search of a new home.
Round is a Mooncake: A Book of Shapes by Roseanne Thong (Author) and Grace Lin (Illustrator)
A young girl’s neighborhood becomes a discovery ground for things of different shapes and sizes like round rice bowls, square dim sum and pizza boxes, and a rectangular pencil case that is very special. Colorful art accompanies this lively introduction to shapes, and a short glossary explains the cultural significance of many objects featured in the book.
The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera
Kahu is a member of the Maori tribe of Whangara, New Zealand. Her people are descendants of Kahutia Te Rangi, the legendary ‘whale rider.’ For generations since Kahutia, a male heir has inherited the title of chief, but there is no male heir for the aging chief. Kahu is the chief’s only great-grandchild, but Maori tradition has no use for a girl. When hundreds of whales threaten the future of Maori tribe, Kahu will do anything to save them … even the impossible.
Young Adult Novels
The novels below are for more advanced young readers or any one looking to read a book from the perspective of teenagers and young adults.
The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain her mother turned into a bird after her suicide. When Leigh travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time, she is determined to find that bird. During her search, Leigh uncovers family secrets and forges a new relationship with her grandparents while coming to terms with her mother’s death.
I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn
Kimi Nakamura loves transforming everyday fashions into Kimi Originals, but her mother sees this as a distraction from working on her painting portfolio for the prestigious fine art academy she will soon attend. When a surprise letter comes in the mail from Kimi’s estranged grandparents, she uses their invitation to escape her current situation and visit Kyoto during Spring Break. In Japan, Kimi meets Akira, a cute med student who moonlights as a mochi mascot.
Internment by Samira Ahmed
In the near future, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents have been forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens. With the help of her new friends in the camp, her boyfriend who is on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla leads a revolution against the camp’s Director and armed guards.
Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay
Jay Reguero plans to spend the last semester of his high school senior year playing video games until he learns of his cousin Jun’s death, who has been murdered as part of President Duterte’s War on Drugs. When no one in the family wants to talk about what happened to Jun, Jay travels to the Philippines to uncover the truth.
Street Dreams by Tama Wise
Growing up in South Auckland, Tyson Rua deals with more than his fair share of problems. He works a night job to support his family and helps his mother raise his two younger brothers, and his best friend Rawiri is dealing with a broken home. To make matters worse, Tyson has fallen in love at first sight with another guy. Now, Tyson must juggle between becoming a successful local graffiti artist while getting the man of his dreams and dealing with the leader of his local rap crew.
Although these books can be read by bibliophiles of almost any age, they may be best for adult or advanced readers due to the more mature subject matter.
America is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo
Based on the violent political history of the Philippines during the 1980s and 1990s and the insular immigrant communities they created in the suburbs of America, American is Not the Heart tells the story of three generations of women. The De Vera family is trying to reconcile the home they left behind with the life they are trying to build in the United States. Disowned by her parents, Hero De Vera comes to stay with her uncle Pol in the Bay Area. Pol’s young wife, Paz, knows the De Vera family well enough to keep quiet with her head down, but their daughter, Roni, constantly asks Hero why her hands always seem to ache.
The Interpreter by Suki Kim
Suzy Park is a Korean American interpreter for the New York City court system. Soon, she makes a startling discovery about her family history that leads her into the dangerous Korean underworld and ultimately, the mystery of her parents’ homicide five years prior during an apparent robbery.
Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera
Two women are on opposing sides of the Sri Lankan Civil War between the Tamil and Sinhala people. Yasodhara lived an idyllic childhood prior to the war, but her family is able to escape to Los Angeles. Saraswathie lives in Sri Lanka’s active war zone. She hopes to be a teacher, but her dreams are abruptly halted when she is arrested by a group of Sinhala soldiers and pulled into the heart of the conflict. Eventually, Saraswathie and Yasodhara are connected in unexpected ways.
Marriage of a Thousand Lies by SJ Sindu
Lucky and her husband Krishna are both gay, but present the illusion of marital bliss to their conservative Sri Lankan American families. It is not the most ideal situation, but it seems to be working for Lucky until her grandmother falls ill. When Lucky returns to her childhood home, she unexpectedly reconnects with her former best friend and first lover, Nisha, who is preparing for her own arranged marriage to a man she’s never met.
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. A general and his trusted captain of the South Vietnamese army draw up a list of those who will be given passage out of the country. In Los Angeles, the general and his compatriots enjoy a new life, unaware that the sympathizer among them is secretly observing the group and reporting back to the Viet Cong.
Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings by Tina Makereti
Traversing different time periods in New Zealand, Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings begins with Mere, a young Maori woman living on Rēkohu, renamed Chatham Island by white settlers, during the 1880s. After the death of her mother, she must run the household and keep her father and brothers fed. When she falls in love with her best friend Iraia, a Moriori boy who has been enslaved to Mere’s family since he was a small child, they flee to Wellington to start a new life. Intertwined is the story of Lula and Bigsy, twins whose birth was one in a million according to their mother Tui. When she dies, they learn about the secrets their mother kept, especially about their heritage.
These #ownvoices books offer true stories about the experiences of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir by Nicole Chung
Nicole Chung was born severely premature, placed for adoption by her Korean parents, and raised by a white family in a small Oregon town. As a child, she believed her biological parents made the ultimate sacrifice to give her a better life. However, experiencing the racism and prejudice her adoptive family couldn’t see made Chung more curious about finding her identity as an Asian American and learning more about her cultural roots.
Amiria: The Life Story of a Maori Woman by Amiria Manutahi Stirling (Author) and Anne Salmond (Translator)
This is the story of Amiria’s life as told to Anne Salmond. Amiria was born on the East Coast district of New Zealand at Tuparoa and spent her childhood between her grandmother’s raupo hut and the Kaharau homestead. The story continues through her schooldays and her arranged marriage, known as a taumau, to Eruera Stirling. Finally, the story concludes with the Stirlings’ latter days in Auckland until their deaths in 1983.
In Dear Girls, Wong pens several heartfelt and hilarious letters for her daughters about everything they need to know in life. Within those letters, Wong shares her own experiences from being a wild child growing up in San Francisco and reconnecting with her roots in Vietnam to the unpleasantness of dating and being a working mom in a male-dominated profession. Although addressed to her daughters, any reader will certainly enjoy these enlightening, funny, moving, NSFW letters.
Know My Name: A Memoir by Chanel Miller
In June 2016, BuzzFeed posted the victim impact statement from Emily Doe in the People v. Turner case. Brock Turner had been sentenced to six months for sexually assaulting her on Stanford’s campus. In 2019, Emily Doe revealed herself as Chanel Miller in her memoir to reclaim her identity and to tell her story of trauma and transcendence in her own words. Her story illuminates culture’s bias to protect predators and indicts the criminal justice system designed to fail the most vulnerable.
Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls: A Memoir by T. Kira Madden
Spanning from 1960s Hawai’i to the present-day struggle of a young woman mourning the loss of her father, this memoir is part love letter and part eulogy. As a child, Madden lived an extravagant life in Boca Raton, Florida. However, below the surface was the instability of an only child of parents constantly battling drug and alcohol addiction.
The following list of books include both fictionalized and nonfiction illustrated stories about the Asian Pacific American experience.
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Jin Wang just wants to fit in at his new school where he is the only Chinese American student. Jocks and bullies constantly pick on him, and he doesn’t have any friends. What’s worse is Jin has fallen in love with an American girl. The story of the Monkey King is one of the oldest and most popular Chinese fables. The Monkey King is adored by his subject, a master in the art of kung-fu, and the most powerful monkey on earth. However, the Monkey King doesn’t want to be a monkey. He wants to be a god. Danny is a popular kid at school, but his cousin Chin-Kee is ruining his reputation. Whenever Chin-Kee comes to visit, Danny has to transfer to a new school to escape the shame. These three apparently unrelated stories come together with an unexpected twist in this hilarious and action-packed modern fable.
The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui
In this illustrated memoir, Bui documents the story of her family’s escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s and the difficulties they faced while building a new life for themselves in the United States.
I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir by Malaka Gharib
Malaka is the daughter of immigrant parents with unfulfilled dreams growing up in the pre-internet era. She has to navigate her childhood code-switching between her family’s Filipino and Egyptian customs. As, she tries to fit in with white culture and become an all-American kid, Malaka must hold on to her family’s cultural value.
Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
Priyanka Das has so many unanswered questions about life in India, her father, and why her mother abandoned them both, but Pri’s mom always avoids these questions. Her mother’s homeland only exists in Pri’s imagination until she finds a mysterious pashmina. When Pri wraps herself in the pashmina, she is transported to a vivid and colorful place, but is this the real India? Pri must travel farther than she’s ever dared to find the family she has never known.
They Called Us Enemy by George Takei (Author), Justin Eisinger (Author), Steven Scott (Author), Harmony Becker (Illustrator)
In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered every person of Japanese descent to be rounded up and shipped to a “relocation center” where they would be held for years under armed guard. In They Called Us Enemy, George Takei gives his firsthand account as a child imprisoned in American concentration camps during World War II.
Poetry and Short Stories
These collections of poems and short stories share the experiences of Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans and highlight the indigenous language of the Hawaiian people.
Attitude 13: A Daughter of Guam’s Collection of Short Stories by Tanya Taimanglo
Attitude 13 is Taimanglo’s love letter to her island homeland of Guam and offers outsiders insight into Pacific Islander culture from the pride in an “Hafa Adai!” to the implications of a community shackled by generations of colonialism.
Iep Jāltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter by Kathy Jetn̄til-Kijiner
Poet and activist Jetn̄til-Kijiner highlights the traumas of colonialism, racism, forced migration, and the legacy of American nuclear testing along with the impending threat of climate change on the Marshall Islands. Her poetry connects readers to the everyday life and traditions of the Marshallese people while bearing witness to the front lines of various activist movements.
If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar
In If They Come for Us, poet and co-creator of the Emmy-nominated web series Brown Girls, Asghar captures the experience of being a young Pakistani Muslim woman in America. After being orphaned, she must deal with coming of age without the guidance of a mother to answer questions about sexuality, race, and navigating a world that has placed a target on your back.
Pidgin Eye by Joe Balaz
Acclaimed poet Joe Balaz honors the beauty, strength, and complexity of Hawai’i and its people with a collection of poetry spanning his 35-year career. Using the native Hawaiian Pidgin language, Balaz weaves history and humor in poems that envision a world where “everything deserves to fly.”
Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre by Lois-Ann Yamanaka
Written in Pidgin, this collection is composed of four poetic novellas about working class Hawaiian teenagers and explores ethnic identity, sexual awakening, drug use, and abusive relationships.