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Must-Read Asian American and Pacific Islander AAPI Books

8 minute read

Authors across the spectrum of Asian American and Pacific Islander identities

Stories are essential to life. They educate, entertain, and allow us to see ourselves in the world. This is why celebrating books by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is important. AAPI representation in media needs improvement, there are amazing books out there that deserve recognition.

This list is a combination of fiction and non-fiction books by authors who identify as Asian American and Pacific Islander. These stories celebrate family, dive into romance, and shine a light on Asian identity. From swooning romance novels to heartbreaking memoirs and hilarious novels, there is a book for every reader.

Recipe for Persuasion, by Sonali Dev

Asian american and Pacific Islanders book list - Recipe for Persuasion, by Sonali Dev

With her restaurant on the line, Chef Ashna Raje has no choice but to make some changes. So Ashna decides to join the cast of Cooking with the Stars. It isn’t an ideal situation, but the show will put her restaurant on the map. It’s just cooking with celebrities after all, what could go wrong?

Enter FIFA-winning soccer star, Rico Silva. AKA Ashna’s first love. Tensions run high between the former lovers after being paired together. In fact, their first meeting goes viral. Before they know it, the audience is obsessed with their simmering chemistry.

But the further they get in the competition, the closer they get to rekindling their past. Is there still something between them or is it just another recipe for heartbreak?

Sonali Dev is an Indian- American author whose work takes classic stories and retells them for a modern and diverse audience. Recipe for Persuasion is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

Once Upon a Sunset, by Tif Marcelo

Asian American and Pacific Islander = Once Upon a Sunset, by Tif Marcelo

Diana Gallagher-Cary has a lot going in her life. Her grandmother passed away and her free-spirited mother, Margo, has moved in. Normally she uses work to distract herself, but after making a terrible medical decision, she has been forced to take a sabbatical. Now Diana is attempting to get her life back in order.

While going through boxes, Margo finds a series of letters from her grandfather. As it turns out, Diana and Margo have relatives in the Philippines they never knew about. Diana takes this opportunity to meet her family and better understand her history, heritage, and culture. However, Margo refuses to face her past.

This story of a Filipino-American family is a celebration of love, family, and second chances. Tif Marcelo, who is also Filipino-American, showcases her signature heartfelt and lyrical storytelling

Tokyo Ever After, by Emiko Jean

Tokyo Ever After, by Emiko Jean

As a Japanese-American, Izumi Tanaka never really felt like she fit in her mostly white California town. But at least at home, with her mom, she can just be herself. However, Izumi’s world turns upside down when she finds a clue to the identity of her father. Turns out, he is none other than the Crown Prince of Japan!

Before she knows it, Izumi is off to Japan to meet her father and take up her role as a princess. However, not everything is the fairytale she imagined. Being a princess is hard, especially when she has to face her cruel family members and learn thousands of years of customs. How can Izumi find her way when she isn’t quite American enough at home, and not quite Japanese enough in Japan?

In a modern and multi-cultural version of The Princess Diaries, Emiko Jean uses this well-known fairytale trope to take a look at what it means to be Japanese-American. This princess story shines a light on the struggles that many multi-cultural Americans face – being too “other” in America and being too “American” in their ancestral home.

Speak, Okinawa: A Memoir, by Elizabeth Miki Brina

Speak, Okinawa: A Memoir, by Elizabeth Miki Brina  - AAPI Authors

During the Vietnam war, Elizabeth Miki Brina’s mother worked as a nightclub hostess in U.S. occupied Okinawa. There she met an American soldier who she would eventually marry. The language barrier and power dynamic rooted early in their relationship didn’t change when they moved to upstate New York.

While Brina lived a fairly common American life, she never truly fit in with her peers. What’s more, she was always embarrassed by her mother, one of the few people she should have been able to look to in her predominantly white suburb. Brina never felt a connection to Vietnam and it wasn’t until decades later that she finally started to understand the history of Okinawa.

As an adult, Brina was able to look back at her past with clear eyes. She came to realize just how much shame and self-loathing haunt both her and her mother. Through coming to terms with what it means to be Vietnamese -American and Okinawan, Brina attempts reconciliation with her mother in this impressive memoir.

The Bone People, by Keri Hulme

The Bone People, by Keri Hulme - asian American and Pacific islander

A woman in exile from her family makes her home in a tower on the New Zealand sea. Kerewin Holmes is part Maori and part European. She is asexual and aromantic. She is an artist. Most importantly, she is an outcast.

One night a boy named Simon makes tries to steal from her. When he is caught, the speechless thief offers Kerewin his most prized possession as repayment for stealing. Soon afterward, Kerewin meets Simon’s foster father, Joe. The three create a small family that, while they have their issues, do love each other. But nothing is perfect and their family begins to fall apart.

Keri Hulme, who is part Maori and part European herself, creates a mystery and a love story with her three outcast characters. Most importantly, this novel gives readers a glimpse into the place where indigenous and colonized New Zealand meet.

The Bad Muslim Discount, by Syed M. Masood

The Bad Muslim Discount, by Syed M. Masood - Asian American and Pacific Islander

Syed M. Masood’s debut novel is part poignant story and part hysterical comedy. Full of insight into the lives of Muslim American immigrants, Masood examines questions of faith, or lack thereof, and identity within a community.

Anvar Faris grew up in Karachi, Pakistan. But after fundamentalism takes root and zealot neighbors try to make Islam great again, he and his family decide to start over in California. Safwa lives in war-torn Baghdad with her grief-stricken father. They too find a way to America, though theirs is much more dangerous.

When Anvar and Safwa meet in California, these two head-strong adults will rock their community and families to the core. Safwa was raised by a conservative father, while Anvar’s mother is a very devout Muslim. But, despite this, Anvar is fully committed to being a bad Muslim.

Crying in H Mart: A Memoir, by Michelle Zauner

AAPI Authors - Crying in H Mart: A Memoir, by Michelle Zauner

Michelle Zauner is a musician and a writer known for her humor and heart. This heartwarming memoir captures Zauner’s journey as she reclaims her heritage. Each story feels alive on the page, they resonate with life and love.

Growing up, Zauner was one of a few Asian American kids in her school in Eugene Oregon. While not feeling connected to her community, she also struggled with her mother’s high expectations. However, Zauner found solace in her grandmother’s small apartment in Seoul, where she would spend months bonding with her family over heaps of food.

Eventually, Zauner would move to the East coast and pursue her life in music. She met new people, fell in love, worked in restaurants, performed her work – she was living the life she wanted. Her “Koreanness” felt distant. Then her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Zauner chose to take the opportunity to reconnect with her heritage, the food, language, and history of her mother. She accepted all of who she is.

Afterparties: Stories, by Anthony Veasna So

Afterparties: Stories, by Anthony Veasna So

A collection of short stories, Afterparties follows Cambodian-Americans making new lives for themselves and their families in California. Their heritage is only part of who they are. While they carry the inherited weight of the Khmer Rouge genocide, these characters also carry the weight of their own struggles.

In an attempt to relive his glory days, a high school badminton coach challenges a teenage player. At a wedding, two drunk brothers plan to expose how their uncle snubbed the couple. A tech entrepreneur and a teacher begin a queer love affair. A nine-year-old girl learns that her mother survived a racist school shooting. Each story sheds light on a complicated community.

Anthony Veasna So passed away at the age of 28. However, his talent and humor were already making waves in publishing. This book started a bidding war because of So’s ability to capture his Cambodian-American community.

These are only a few great books out there by Asian American and Pacific Islander authors. Make sure to check out other books by Asian American and Pacific Islander authors in a variety of genres, including fantasy, thrillers, poetry, and historical fiction.

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Writer, editor, and proud nerd. Co-host of Wit Beyond Measure, a Jane Austen podcast. A reader of books, binger of Netflix, and knitter of scarves. Her cat is probably yelling at her right now.