The Asian/Pacific American Experience | Great Books

While no one book list can adequately explore all the variations in culture and traditions embodied within the broad category of the “Asian/Pacific American Experience,” readers who identify as Asian American and/or Pacific American—especially as first-generation Americans—will find reflections of their own stories in these novels.

While no one book list can adequately explore all the variations in culture and traditions embodied within the broad category of the “Asian/Pacific American Experience,” readers who identify as Asian American and/or Pacific American—especially as first-generation Americans—will find reflections of their own stories in these novels. Others will glean insight into lives that may seem unfamiliar at first glance.

This selection of young adult titles by #OwnVoices authors offers insight into what it feels like to exist both within and outside of two worlds, wherever the protagonists call home and whatever specific ethnicity they claim. Ultimately, in addition to examining cultural identity, these books address time-honored themes familiar to many coming-of-age novels: navigating family expectations, discovering one’s own identity, following one’s dreams, and exploring sexuality. Each book on this list portrays a genuine experience of growing up Asian American, even when the plot is not explicitly centered on Asian American identity.

AHMADI, Arvin. Down and Across. 336p. Viking. Jan. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780425289877.
Gr 8 Up–At 16, Sakeet (“Scott”) has never completed anything he has set out to do. When his parents leave on a trip to Iran, he quits his summer job and takes off for Washington, DC, to talk to a psychologist about her study on grit and its use as a predictor of success—a topic that intrigues him. Along the way, he meets Fiora and Trent, peers very different from himself, who help him discover his own truths. While touching on some serious topics, this debut will entertain and satisfy readers.

BOWMAN, Akemi Dawn. Summer Bird Blue. 384p. S. & S./Simon Pulse. Sept. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781481487757.
Gr 8 Up–When Rumi’s younger sister, Lea, dies and her mother sends her off to Hawaii to live with her aunt Ani, the teen is broken. She feels her mother has abandoned her, and the passion for composing music that she and her sister shared is gone. In Hawaii, as Rumi begins spending time with Kai, the upbeat boy next door, and his friends, she slowly heals. A heartbreaking story of loss, friendship, and forgiveness.

CHAO, Gloria. American Panda. 320p. S. & S./Simon Pulse. Feb. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481499101.
Gr 9 Up–Mei Lu is a 17-year-old Taiwanese American student at MIT, whose family has planned her future: they expect her to become a doctor—and to marry one. The teen has always listened to them but entertains her own dream of becoming a dancer. Despite knowing that going against her parents’ wishes might cause them to disown her (as they have her brother), Mei is determined to find her own happiness. An emotionally complex novel with plenty of humor.

CHEN, Justina. Lovely, Dark, and Deep. 352p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. Jul. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781338134063.
Gr 8 Up–Viola has aspirations to study at New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus to become a foreign correspondent. Those dreams are shattered when she’s diagnosed with extreme photosensitivity. Her parents, crisis experts, are doing everything they can to help, and Josh, who saves her after her first collapse, keeps her sane. But Viola keeps testing limits...until she pushes too far.

GILBERT, Kelly Loy. Picture Us in the Light. 368p. Disney-Hyperion. Apr. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781484726020.
Gr 9 Up–There’s a lot going on in Danny’s life: he learns that he’s been accepted to his dream art school at the same time his father loses his job and his family must drastically downsize. He’s also trying to unravel the truth behind some family secrets, including his Chinese parents’ immigration status, while facing the anniversary of a friend’s suicide. Then there are his unspoken feelings for his best friend Harry. Nuanced characters and a beautifully written text illuminate this teen’s coming of age.

GOO, Maurene. The Way You Make Me Feel. 336p. Farrar. May 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780374304089.
Gr 9 Up–Clara is a prankster who, after taking a joke too far, ends up working on her dad’s Korean Brazilian food truck during the summer alongside her nemesis, Rose. But as the season progresses, the teen discovers that Rose is much more than her too-cool exterior, or the person she believes ruined her life years ago. Clara also meets the earnest and compassionate Hamlet, who challenges her cynical worldview. A story about discovering who you are, filled with food, friendship, and a dash of romance.

MENON, Sandhya. From Twinkle with Love. 336p. S. & S./Simon Pulse. May 2018. Tr $18.99. 9781481495400; pap. $11.95. ISBN 9781481495417.
Gr 7 Up–Twinkle’s a filmmaker at the bottom of her school’s social hierarchy, especially after BFF Maddie abandons her. She believes her crush, golden boy Neil, is her ticket to popularity, so when his twin, Sahil, offers to produce her film, she jumps at the chance. It’s not long before Twinkle realizes she may have had her eyes on the wrong twin. Adding to her confusion is a secret admirer (could it be Neil?), who makes her question her feelings for Sahil. An entertaining story told through journal entries to female filmmakers.

PAN, Emily X.R. The Astonishing Color of After. 480p. Little, Brown. Mar. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780316463997.
Gr 9 Up–To better understand her mother and the depression that caused her death by suicide, Leigh travels to Taiwan. She also longs to escape the guilt she feels about not being with her mother that day, and to find out more about the family she’s never known. A captivating story about memory, grief, and love, infused with magical realism.

PERKINS, Mitali. You Bring the Distant Near. 320p. Farrar. Sept. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780374304904.
Gr 9 Up–This Indian American intergenerational family story tells of two sets of teens, recent immigrant sisters Tara and Sonia in 1970s New York City, and their daughters Chantal and Anna. The novel closes with Ranee, the matriarch, who has a change of heart about America and the people who live there. An engaging, thought-provoking tale about identity, culture, and family.

RIBAY, Randy. Patron Saints of Nothing. 352p. Penguin. Jun. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780525554912.
Gr 10 Up–When he hears of his cousin Jun’s death in the Philippines, Jay’s world turns upside down. To learn more about the secrecy surrounding the tragic event, the teen heads to the Philippines. In the process, Jay discovers much about himself, his family, and life under Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal presidency. The beautiful writing will stay with readers long after they’ve finished the novel.

SUGIURA, Misa. This Time Will Be Different. 400p HarperTeen. Jun. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062473448.
Gr 9 Up–CJ has grown up with a mother who demands ambition, and under the family motto, “Katsuyamas never quit.” Nonetheless, the 17-year-old is perfectly content to work at her family’s floundering flower shop—until her mother sells it to the McAllisters, the family who exploited the Katsuyamas when the family was sent to an internment camp during World War ll. At times humorous and always heartfelt, this is a look into family dynamics, identity, history, and community.


Kristyn Dorfman is the middle school librarian at the the Nightingale Bamford School in New York City, and an SLJ reviewer.

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