Since 1990, the U.S. has celebrated May as Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Month, a celebration of AAPI culture and contributions. May was chosen because it marked the arrival of the first Japanese immigrant and honored the completion of the transcontinental railroad, whose many workers were Chinese immigrants.
One of my favorite ways to honor and learn about people and cultures different from my own is through reading. And by purchasing and reading books by AAPI authors, it encourages publishing to put out more books by AAPI authors while also allowing us to appreciate their culture and experiences.
The books on this list will make you laugh, cry, and think differently. From novels exploring identity to memoirs rich with history of food to the immigrant experiences, Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) deserve to have their stories heard. Here are 20 of our favorites by AAPI authors to check out.
Mika in Real Life
At age 35, Mika Suzuki struggles with various aspects of her life. She’s just been fired from her dead-end job, her previous relationships have all ended badly, and she’s a disappointment to her traditional Japanese parents. However, her life takes an unexpected turn when she receives a call from her biological daughter Penny, whom she put up for adoption 16 years ago. Penny is so excited to connect with her birth mother, and Mika, longing to make her daughter proud, embellishes her life to create a fake version of herself as a successful, mature, and put-together person. Mika shares her hopes, dreams, and Japanese heritage with Penny, and despite a rocky start, their relationship turns into something special.
The Joy Luck Club
This novel follows the lives of four Chinese mothers and their American-born daughters as they navigate their complex relationships and the challenges of cultural identity. Through their experiences, author Tan explores themes of motherhood, femininity, and the immigrant experience, with each story offering a glimpse into the intimate lives of these women and the ways in which their cultural heritage shapes their understanding of themselves, the world around them, and the special nature of mother-daughter relationships.
Joan Is Okay
This novel follows Joan, a 30-something ICU doctor in NYC, who is trying to understand her place in the world and how to incorporate her Chinese culture with the expectations she has at work. Her father passes away and her mother returns back to America to reconnect, and Joan is forced to step out of her comfort zone as her world expands outside the hospital.
This collection of nine short stories explores the themes of identity, longing, and human connection in the age of social media. Featuring a diverse cast of characters, including a teenage girl navigating her first crush, a mother struggling to connect with her daughter, and a woman who becomes obsessed with the online persona of her ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend, author Bynum examines the ways in which technology shapes our relationships and sense of self through humor and empathy, and asks questions about what it means to be truly seen and understood in a world where everyone is constantly curating their online image.
Discussing the complexities of the immigrant experience through the lens of Hollywood stereotypes, this one-of-a-kind book is uniquely structured as a screenplay, with each chapter representing a different scene in the life of struggling Asian-American actor Willis Wu. As Wu navigates the ups and downs of the film industry, he grapples with questions of representation and the ways in which Asian-Americans are stereotyped and marginalized in pop culture.
Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning
Telling the story of author Hong's own personal experiences as a Korean-American, as well as broader cultural and political issues facing today, this collection of essays examines the ways in which Asian-Americans are often marginalized and stereotyped in pop culture, and the ways in which these stereotypes can contribute to feelings of invisibility, inadequacy, and shame. Through its insightful analysis and personal storytelling, Minor Feelings offers a powerful and necessary reckoning with the ways in which racism and prejudice continue to impact Asian-American people on an everyday basis.
This novel follows the story of a young Filipino woman named Yara who is an obsessive reader and suffers from a rare condition called bibliolepsy—a condition where a person falls asleep every time they read a book. Yara travels to New York to pursue her dream of becoming a writer and finds herself caught up in the city's literary scene, where she meets a cast of eccentric characters who help her navigate the world of writers and publishers. Along the way, she confronts her own demons, including her troubled relationship with her mother and her own sense of inadequacy as a writer and grapples with questions of identity, colonialism, and the power of language.
Dial A For Aunties
This rom-com mystery novel follows the misadventures of a young wedding photographer named Meddy Chan, who accidentally kills her blind date and turns to her mother and three aunties for help in getting rid of the body. However, things quickly spiral out of control when the body goes missing, and Meddy and her family find themselves embroiled in a series of increasingly absurd mishaps and misunderstandings. Along the way, Meddy must confront her own fears and insecurities, as well as the cultural expectations and traditions that shape her family's lives.
Homeland Elegies was previously named one of the New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year. It is a unique blend of fiction, social commentary, and literary novel that follows the story of a Muslim father and son in America, where debt has taken over so many people’s lives. Without a doubt, this is a book to remember and to learn a new perspective on the American dynamic and its impact on Muslim individuals in America.
The Family Chao
Following the lives of a Chinese-American family over the course of several decades, their journey is told through interconnected stories that aren’t so different after all. Told from multiple perspectives, including the family's matriarch, Ruth, her husband, Jack, and their two daughters, Mona and Callie, their individual experiences explore themes of identity, assimilation, and the immigrant experience in America, and offers a glimpse into the complex relationships within the Chao family, as they navigate the challenges of maintaining their cultural traditions while adapting to life in a new country
Crying in H Mart: A Memoir
This memoir written by singer, songwriter, and musician Michelle Zauner—lead vocalist of indie rock band Japanese Breakfast—chronicles her experience growing up in a Korean household in Oregon and reconnecting with her Asian-American roots after her mom is diagnosed with terminal cancer.
The Magical Language of Others
This powerful memoir is structured around its author, Koh, discovering a series of letters that her mother wrote to her while she was living in Korea, while Koh was living in America with her father. Through these letters, Koh traces the history of her family, from her grandparents' experiences during the Korean War to her mother's struggles with depression and her own sense of displacement as a Korean-American. Along the way, Koh examines the explores concepts of identity, family, intergenerational trauma, and complexities of language and translation, and the ways in which words can both connect and divide us.
Imagine a Death
This thrilling novel blurs the lines between reality and fiction, all while exploring themes of grief, loss, and the creative process. Weaving between several interconnected stories, each one explores a different facet of the narrator's experiences with death and mourning, offering a powerful meditation on the ways in which loss can shape our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Along the way, it also touches on the complexities of the creative process, and how writing can serve as a means of processing and grappling with our deepest fears and desires.
When 7-year-old Qian comes to America, she is struck by how in China, her parents were professors—and now, they are labeled as “illegals.” In this gripping memoir, we follow Qian’s coming-of-age story, as she is ostracized by classmates for her limited English while her family struggles in sweatshops to survive their new life in America.
While I love a good romance or thriller, I have a deep appreciation for a food memoir that can weave personal narrative along with the importance of food and its impact. Author Ghosh does this seamlessly as she shares her immigrant journey as a daughter of Indian refugees and her experiences as a woman of color in the science field.
Sisters of Mokama
This biography follows the journey of six nuns from Appalachia in the 1940s as they build a hospital in the poorest state in India. I found myself tearing through the pages, following their journey and feeling every ache, hope, and accomplishment with them. Simply put, it's a must-read by author Thottam.
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong is a novel that explores themes of identity, family, and the immigrant experience. This beautiful novel is written as a letter from a young Vietnamese-American man named Little Dog to his mother, who never learned to read English. Through this letter, Little Dog reflects on his family's history, from his grandmother's experiences during the Vietnam War to his own struggles growing up as a gay immigrant in America, all reflecting on themes of identity, family, and acceptance. Through its poetic prose and intimate portrayal of family life, it offers a powerful commentary on the complexities of the immigrant experience, and the ways in which our personal histories shape our understanding of the world around us.
Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers
Vera Wong, an elderly woman who lives alone above her tea shop in San Francisco's Chinatown, enjoys nothing more than sipping tea and keeping an eye on her Gen-Z son via the internet. But one day, Vera discovers a dead man in her tea shop holding a flash drive. Feeling confident in her detective skills, she takes the flash drive and decides to solve the murder herself. Because she has a feeling the killer will come back for the flash drive, she must figure out which one of her store’s customers is the culprit. However, Vera begins to form caring friendships with them, and becomes worried about solving the murder without putting her newfound friendships in danger.
Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls
Author Madden is a powerful essayist who shares her coming-of-age story as a queer, biracial teenager who comes from a life of extravagance. She brings readers with her on her beautiful and sometimes heartbreaking experiences as she copes with the loss of her father.
How High We Go in the Dark
Set in the future in the year 2030, this thought-provoking book follows a grieving archeologist continuing the work of his recently-deceased daughter in the Arctic Circle. While there, they discover an ancient virus that threatens to change the course of history on Earth. "Spanning continents, centuries, and even celestial bodies," this book tells an enchanting story about "resilience of the human spirit, our infinite capacity to dream, and the connective threads that tie us all together in the universe."