YA Recommendations: Books with Asian American Leads

It’s time for another YA Recommendations post! This time, partially in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I’m going to be sharing my favorite YA novels that feature Asian American leads. This is a topic near and dear to my heart. As a first generation Indian-American, I didn’t grow up seeing a whole lot of people who had similar backgrounds as me in any type of media, from television to films (unless they were Bollywood) to books. And when I did, they would be minor characters conforming to all of the stereotypical characteristics that I was sick and tired of hearing about (news flash: we’re not all nerdy math geniuses who have arranged marriages). Recently, however, Asian Americans have been getting increasingly represented in all of these mediums, and this post is meant to highlight their growing representation in YA literature (I still feel a lack of significant South Asian representation, but it’s getting there!). Without further ado, here are five of my favorite YA novels that feature prominent Asian American characters. *Note: each book cover is linked to the book’s Goodreads page!

1. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Click here for my review!

When Dimple Met Rishi was the first book written by an Indian-American author that I read, and it’s hard to even describe the impact it had on me. Reading a book where the protagonist look like you, comes from a similar background, and faces similar struggles may seem like nothing special to most people, but it was a first for me. Because of that, this book will always hold a special place in my heart. Although there were many parts I definitely couldn’t relate to (e.g. having an arranged marriage, getting into Stanford, etc.) it did represent a lot of the cultural issues I face being as an Indian-American teenager, and I recommend it because not only does it represent one of the most underrepresented communities in YA, it’s a beautifully written, funny, and romantic piece of young adult literature.

2. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

I’m sure most of you know the plot to this one given the Netflix adaptations, butTo All The Boys I’ve Loved Before follows Lara Jean Covey after five love letters she’s written get mysteriously mailed out to their recipients. Jenny Han talks about the perspective of someone who grows up surrounded by two different cultures, as is characteristic of all Asian Americans, but in a slightly different way for Lara Jean, who identifies as biracial, with her mom being Korean and dad American. This is one of the only YA books I know of with a biracial main character, which amazes me. I loved Lara Jean’s character and Han’s humor and wit, and highly recommend this book to anyone!

3. The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

The Astonishing Color of After, like To All The Boys, follows a biracial protagonist. The similarities basically end there, though. Unlike most YA, this book falls under the genre of magical realism. The story is told through alternating timelines, the time before Leigh’s mother committed suicide, and the time after, and follows Leigh through her grieving process and her belief that her mother has turned into a bird. The majority of the books focuses on Leigh’s journey to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents, where she learns more about Taiwanese culture and gets to know her grandparents in the aftermath of her mother’s suicide, while continuing her search for answers from the bird she believes is her mother. This is one of the few books I’ve read that features both mental health awareness and Asian American representation, and I highly recommend it because of how beautifully it is tackles both of these issues.

4. Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz

This book changed my life. And I don’t say that lightly; after reading this book, I had an epiphany about why I love reading young adult literature so much. I even wrote about it in a few of my college essays. It follows a national scholar award recipient, Jasmine de los Santos, who is the daughter of two Filipino immigrants. The novel focuses on Jasmine’s journey through her college application process and her discovery of her undocumented status. This book taught me to look beyond the black and white arguments to political issues and think about the importance of awareness and empathy in the world we live in. I’d recommend this book to anyone, not just because of its profound impact on me and relevance to the current political climate, but also because it’s a wonderfully written story about belonging and finding one’s place.

5. Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon

Click here for my review!

Of Curses and Kisses is a modern day retelling of Beauty and the Beast, except in which the beauty is the Indian princess Jaya Rao and the beast is Grey Emerson, the heir of the family that has been at war with the Raos for centuries. Equal parts Romeo and Juliet and Beauty and the Beast, the characters and plot beautifully wove together to create a swoon-worthy romance. Also, it was so great to see someone of South Asian background in a fairy tale setting, something that Disney has yet to accomplish. This book is perfect if you’re looking for more of a light and fluffy YA read versus one that deals with heavier issues (for more of that, see #1, 3, and 4 on this list).

Here Are Some More!

Let me know down below if you’ve read any of these books or have any other YAs with Asian American protagonists you’d like to recommend; I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks so much for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day!

One response to “YA Recommendations: Books with Asian American Leads”

  1. […] me in the first place. My primary goal has always been to promote diverse stories and authors, but the topic of Asian American representation in literature in particular is something that’s ver…. As an Indian American myself, I haven’t seen too many characters who look like me in the […]

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