May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! Though it’s worth noting that, to paraphrase from a wry friend, “for some of us, every month is APA Heritage Month because… we own mirrors.”
So yeah, we should celebrate APA heritage every month. But sometimes it’s nice to consecrate time to reflect on what APA heritage means to us and our communities. For me, APAHM is about honoring the diversity of APA experiences. It’s about remembering that there is no single APA story. APA artists are continuing to expand and enrich the narrative, bringing in more LGBTQ, first- and second- generation, Southeast Asian, hapa, low-income, and refugee perspectives.
So to celebrate the rich multiplicity and intersectionality within “Asian Pacific American,” I’m excited to showcase some of my favorite books by APA authors. Check them out below!
Cora Cooks Pancit
by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore, illus. Kristi Valiant
Cora was the first Filipina American character I saw in literature. Isn’t that wild? I wrote an entire post about her for LEE & LOW’s Open Book blog!
Baseball Saved Us
by Ken Mochizuki, illus. Dom Lee
This gently somber book shows the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II through the eyes of a young boy who likes to play baseball. He starts to regain confidence when the Japanese American community sets up a makeshift baseball field in the camp.
Middle Grade/Young Adult
Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities
by Mike Jung, illus. Mike Maihack
What narrator Vincent Wu lacks in physical stature, he makes up for in supreme superhero trivia knowledge. When local superhero Captain Stupendous gets into trouble, can Vincent Wu help save the day? (Yes, reader. He can. And how he does it is marvelous.) This middle-grade novel had me clutching my sides laughing.
Not Your Sidekick
by C.B. Lee
This classic underdog’s tale takes place in a colorful world where superheroes zip through the sky and characters are accepting of one another’s LGBTQ identities. Honestly, there is no better world you could aspire to. I loved this book so much that I wrote a full review here. (Can’t get enough? Check out the sequel!)
The Girl from Everywhere
by Heidi Heilig
Sixteen-year-old Nix and her father navigate a time-traveling ship that allows them to travel into any map they please. Nix and her father’s next, most dangerous quest takes them to 1868 Honolulu, just before the American takeover of Hawaiʻi.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
by Jenny Han
Five love letters, three Korean American sisters, and a teenage love triangle that deserves its own TV show: you really couldn’t ask for more in this sweet testament to sisterly love. And about that TV show? The adaptation is coming to Netflix this summer.
The Making of Asian America
by Erica Lee
If you don’t read anything else on this list, read this. Lee’s thorough research changed my perspective on where Asian Americans have been and where we’re going.
The Paper Menagerie
by Ken Liu
Come for the much-lauded short story “The Paper Menagerie,” stay for the other stories that let fantasy, technology, and Asian history intersect in messy, playful ways.
Not a Self-Help Book
by Yi Shun Lai
I picked up this book after seeing Yi Shun give a reading at an independent bookstore in New York City. This hilarious, honest novel about a woman navigating her career, making mistakes, and defining who she is apart from her family is a must-read for anyone who is confused by this thing called “growing up and figuring out your life.” (read: me.) It may not be a self-help book, but Marty’s story was on my nightstand when I really needed it.
A Tale for the Time Being
by Ruth Ozeki
A teenage girl’s diary washes ashore and into the hands of a writer. I could read this book three times over and still notice new things. Ozeki deftly draws together history, metaphysics, ethics, and quantum theory in this book about a the correspondence between a Japanese American writer and a teenager in Tokyo.
Everything I Never Told You
by Celeste Ng
I went to Ng’s reading in San Francisco and was so excited that I devoted an entire review to this book.
What’s on my reading list?
by Jhumpa Lahiri
This one is on my nightstand right now. I just started it, and I’m already riveted by Lahiri’s powerful prose.
by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Nguyen grew up in San Jose and teaches at USC (yay for Californian writers!). His debut novel won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
by Alexander Chee
Chee’s debut nonfiction collection came out last month. If this excerpt doesn’t convince you to run out and buy it, I don’t know what will.
All You Can Ever Know
by Nicole Chung
Chung’s memoir, coming out in October, is about her childhood as a Korean adoptee in a white family. I actually had the honor of working with Nicole on this piece. She’s a warm, talented editor, and I cannot wait to read her book.
Your turn now! What did I miss? What’s next on your reading list? Also, does anyone know of any books by Pacific Islander, Cambodian, or Thai American writers? I’m always looking for better representation on my bookshelf.