Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Part 2: Read These Books!
In the first of this two-part series about Asian Pacific American Month, we featured an interview with Cindy Pon, author of the Chinese-inspired fantasy novels, Silver Phoenix and Fury of the Phoenix. In addition to Cindy’s books, here are a few titles from recent YALSA booklists and award winners that you will want to check out this month (or any time of the year!).
Bitter Melon by Cara Chow
Many teens will relate to this realistic story set in 1980s San Francisco about a Chinese-American girl who clashes with her traditional mother when she’s accidentally assigned to take a speech class instead of calculus. Chow skillfully depicts the academic pressure and the expectation of filial piety that will be familiar to Asian-American readers. It’s a multi-layered depiction: just as readers will sympathize with Frances’s need to be independent, they will also gain a glimmer of understanding for her unrelenting mother. (2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults selection)
Huntress by Malinda Lo
This lush, beautifully-written fantasy is a prequel to Ash, Lo’s inventive retelling of Cinderella. In this book, two seventeen-year-old girls, Kaede and Taisin, are brought together to journey to the city of the Fairy Queen to try and save their homeland, which is being ravaged by an imbalance of nature caused by a supernatural force. Huntress has a vivid Chinese influence, with elements inspired by the I Ching. As Asian-American females have long suffered under the stereotype of being subservient and demure, readers will appreciate the strength of Lo’s protagonists as they forge into the unknown on a dangerous quest. (2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults selection)
Legend by Marie Lu
Day and June are two teens on opposing sides of a totalitarian government known as the Republic in a dystopian Los Angeles setting. June is a military prodigy set to advance in the ranks, while Day is a wanted street criminal determined to protect his family. Their lives converge when June’s brother is killed and Day is pronounced the prime suspect—but they’re both about to uncover truths about themselves and their government they never expected. Street-savvy, swoon-worthy Day is of multiple ethnicities including Asian heritage, which is merely part of his character, rather than a major plot factor major. In the fast-paced, high-stakes world of Legend, there’s nothing unusual or about Day’s Asian heritage, which many readers may find inspiring and refreshing. (2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults selection)
Orchards by Holly Thompson
When half-Jewish, half-Japanese Kana Goldberg is sent to her mother’s family farm in Japan for the summer, she considers it a banishment: one of her 8th grade classmates committed suicide after being bullied, and Kana was part of the group of girls that may have pushed their classmate over the edge. Was it Kana’s fault? Was there something she could have done? This novel in verse is a sensitive look at the effects of bullying, and a journey of self-discovery for Kana. As she wrestles with guilt over her classmate’s suicide, she feels isolated in a culture where she doesn’t fit in. But as Kana throws herself into the hard labor of tending to the family’s mikan orange groves, she finds she has a place in her Japanese family after all. (2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults selection)
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
The first graphic novel to win the Printz Award, which honors the best book written for teens each year, weaves three seemingly unrelated narratives that coalesce in a surprising, thought-provoking conclusion. One storyline features the Monkey King, a famous figure in Chinese mythology who is constantly striving for more power; another plot is a parody of a television sitcom with outrageous Asian stereotypes; and the third tells the story of Jin, a regular Chinese-American kid just trying to figure out where he fits in. Funny, moving, and insightful, this graphic novel is sure to spark a fascinating discussion in any teen book club. (2007 Michael L. Printz Award winner)
This list represents only a fraction of the excellent YA books featuring Asian or Asian-American culture. For more suggestions, visit the Asian Pacific American Book List at Talk Story: Sharing Stories, Sharing Culture.
What are your favorite books to highlight during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month?
– Allison Tran, currently listening to the audiobook of Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper