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YA Contemporaries by South Asian Authors To Look Forward to in 2021

South Asians are one of the most underrepresented communities in literature–especially in YA– so this is the second part in my series of guides for you to learn about the YA books by and about South Asians coming out in 2021.

The main goal of this series is to not only highlight these books, but also to highlight their authors, because they deserve the recognition and love for doing what they’re doing and making so many of us feel seen and heard.

I’m also going to be providing resources for you to pre-order these books from indie bookstores. I understand that not everyone has the resources to purchase books from indie stores as opposed to Amazon, but if you do, I want to encourage you to consider that option by making it as easy as possible, because as easy as Amazon is, I don’t want to be promoting and supporting their unethical treatment of workers if I don’t have to, and would love to support physical bookstores who are struggling as a result of the pandemic. I’ve selected a different online source for each book, but if you want to order from an indie store close to you, you can find a list of them here!

Without further ado, here are some of the South Asian contemporaries you can look forward to reading in 2021!

1. American Betiya by Anuradha D. Rajurkar

Release Date: March 9, 2021

Preorder from an indie bookstore here (chosen by the author, will arrive signed and personalized!)

Fans of Sandhya Menon, Erika Sanchez and Jandy Nelson will identify with this powerful story of a young artist grappling with first love, family boundaries, and the complications of a cross-cultural relationship.

Rani Kelkar has never lied to her parents, until she meets Oliver. The same qualities that draw her in–his tattoos, his charisma, his passion for art–make him her mother’s worst nightmare.

They begin dating in secret, but when Oliver’s troubled home life unravels, he starts to ask more of Rani than she knows how to give, desperately trying to fit into her world, no matter how high the cost. When a twist of fate leads Rani from Evanston, Illinois to Pune, India for a summer, she has a reckoning with herself–and what’s really brewing beneath the surface of her first love.

Winner of the SCBWI Emerging Voices award, Anuradha Rajurkar takes an honest look at the ways cultures can clash in an interracial relationship. Braiding together themes of sexuality, artistic expression, and appropriation, she gives voice to a girl claiming ownership of her identity, one shattered stereotype at a time.

2. The Knockout by Sajni Patel

Release Date: January 26, 2021

Order from an indie bookstore here!

A rising star in Muay Thai figures out what (and who) is worth fighting for in this #ownvoices YA debut full of heart.

If seventeen-year-old Kareena Thakkar is going to alienate herself from the entire Indian community, she might as well do it gloriously. She’s landed the chance of a lifetime, an invitation to the US Muay Thai Open, which could lead to a spot on the first-ever Olympic team. If only her sport wasn’t seen as something too rough for girls, something she’s afraid to share with anyone outside of her family. Despite pleasing her parents, exceling at school, and making plans to get her family out of debt, Kareena’s never felt quite Indian enough, and her training is only making it worse.

Which is inconvenient, since she’s starting to fall for Amit Patel, who just might be the world’s most perfect Indian. Admitting her feelings for Amit will cost Kareena more than just her pride–she’ll have to face his parents’ disapproval, battle her own insecurities, and remain focused for the big fight. Kareena’s bid for the Olympics could very well make history–if she has the courage to go for it.

3. The Marvelous Mirza Girls by Sheba Karim

Release Date: May 18, 2021

Preorder from an indie bookstore here (chosen by the author, will arrive signed and personalized!)

“The Mirza girls hit Delhi—that’s a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.”

To cure her post–senior year slump, made worse by the loss of her aunt Sonia, Noreen is ready to follow her mom on a gap year trip to New Delhi, hoping India can lessen her grief and bring her voice back.

In the world’s most polluted city, Noreen soon meets kind, handsome Kabir, who introduces her to the wonders of this magical, complicated place. With Kabir’s help—plus Bollywood celebrities, fourteenth-century ruins, karaoke parties, and Sufi saints—Noreen begins to rediscover her joyful voice.

But when a family scandal erupts, Noreen and Kabir must face complicated questions in their own relationship: What does it mean to truly stand by someone—and what are the boundaries of love?

4. If I Tell You The Truth by Jasmin Kaur

Release Date: January 19, 2021

Order from an indie bookstore here!

Told in prose, poetry, and illustration, this heartrending story weaves Kiran’s and Sahaara’s timelines together, showing a teenage Kiran and, later, her high school–aged daughter, Sahaara.

Kiran is a young Punjabi Sikh woman who becomes pregnant after being sexually assaulted by her fiancé’s brother. When her fiancé and family don’t believe her, she flees her home in India to Canada, where she plans to raise the child as a single mother. For Kiran, living undocumented means constant anxiety over finances, work, safety, and whether she’ll be deported back to the dangers that await her in Punjab.

Eighteen years later, Kiran’s daughter, Sahaara, is desperate to help her mother, who has been arrested and is facing deportation. In the aftermath, Kiran reveals the truth about Sahaara’s conception. Horrified, Sahaara encourages Kiran to speak out against the man who raped her—who’s now a popular political figure in Punjab. Sahaara must find the best way to support her mother while also dealing with the revelation about her parents.

5. Bruised by Tanya Boteju

Release Date: March 23, 2021

Preorder from an indie bookstore here!

To Daya Wijesinghe, a bruise is a mixture of comfort and control. Since her parents died in an accident she survived, bruises have become a way to keep her pain on the surface of her skin so she doesn’t need to deal with the ache deep in her heart.

So when chance and circumstances bring her to a roller derby bout, Daya is hooked. Yes, the rules are confusing and the sport seems to require the kind of teamwork and human interaction Daya generally avoids. But the opportunities to bruise are countless, and Daya realizes that if she’s going to keep her emotional pain at bay, she’ll need all the opportunities she can get.

The deeper Daya immerses herself into the world of roller derby, though, the more she realizes it’s not the simple physical pain-fest she was hoping for. Her rough-and-tumble teammates and their fans push her limits in ways she never imagined, bringing Daya to big truths about love, loss, strength, and healing.

Let me know down below if you’re planning to read any of these books or have any other upcoming YA contemporaries by and about South Asian authors 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!

2 responses to “YA Contemporaries by South Asian Authors To Look Forward to in 2021”

  1. Marta the Monogamist Reader Avatar

    Interesting selection of titles. I will make sure to check them out!

    1. Geetanshi Avatar

      Thank you! I hope you enjoy 🙂

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