35 Books To Read This AAPI Heritage Month

Make some space on your shelf for these new must-reads by Asian American & Pacific Islander authors.

by Bustle Editors
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Books to read by Asian American and Pacific Islander authors.
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To honor AAPI Heritage Month, Bustle has pulled together a list of recent books by AAPI authors. From romance writers like Emery Lee and Sonali Dev, to graphic novelists Aminder Dhaliwal and Lee Lai, to literary powerhouses like Anthony Veasna So and Julie Otsuka, the writers featured here have created a wide range of incredible works — more than enough to keep you reading long after May is over.

Although anti-Asian hate crimes have been on the rise in the United States in recent years, the underlying phenomenon isn’t a new development: America has a longstanding history of anti-Asian discrimination. Anti-Asian xenophobia — which ranges from the damaging legacies of the Chinese Exclusion Act and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, to the history of yellowface and the lack of AAPI representation in Hollywood — remains largely unexplored in American discourse.

Observed each year since the late 1970s, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month draws attention to the contributions of (and challenges faced by) a diverse group of people who trace their heritage to Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Fiji, Guam, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Palau, the Philippines, Samoa, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Tonga, Vanuatu, Vietnam, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia and the Pacific — many of whom have penned remarkable works of literature.

Below, 35 recent books to pick up this AAPI Heritage Month — and all year long.

1. Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex

No, the “A” in LGBTQIA+ doesn’t stand for “Ally.” Asexuality is more openly claimed and celebrated today than ever before. In Ace, Angela Chen examines the contemporary asexual experience in all its myriad forms, and zooms out to analyze our culture’s understanding of sexual attraction.

2. Afterparties

Published eight months after the author’s untimely death in December 2020, Anthony Veasna So’s Afterparties collects nine stories about Cambodian Americans grappling with substance use disorders, sexual tensions, discrimination, and the ongoing impact of Pol Pot’s regime.

3. Brown Girls

Set in Queens, New York and told in a first-person plural voice, Daphne Palasi Andreades’ Brown Girls weaves its way through the lives of a handful of girls of color from immigrant backgrounds. Part coming-of-age story, part lyrical collection, this book has cemented Andreades’ status as one of the freshest new voices in literary fiction.

4. Café con Lychee

In this enemies-to-lovers romance, soccer teammates Theo and Gabi must join forces to save their parents’ restaurants when a fusion café threatens to put them out of business. Gabi, a closeted high-schooler, would rather dance than play soccer, and it shows. Openly gay Theo is fed up with Gabi’s mistakes on the field costing the team dearly. But when Theo’s plan to save his parents’ café is nearly derailed by an injury, he turns to Gabi for help… with some truly sweet results.

5. The Cartographers

In this novel from the author of The Book of M, a young cartographer’s estranged father is found dead with a map — the same, seemingly unimportant map that led to the end of their relationship. Turns out, it’s anything but unimportant, and she’ll have to unravel its mysteries before she runs afoul of her father’s killer.

6. Crying in H Mart

From the creative force behind Japanese Breakfast comes this heartfelt collection of essays. Zauner writes about growing up as one of the only Asian American kids in her Oregon hometown, living on the East Coast and in Seoul, and losing her mother in her 20s.

7. Cyclopedia Exotica

This book from the author of Woman World looks at the everyday lives of a community of cyclopses — punctuated by encounters with their xenophobic neighbors. Occasionally heartbreaking, often funny, and always insightful, Cyclopedia Exotica is a quirky graphic novel that deserves a place on your bookshelf.

8. Edge Case

When her husband unexpectedly leaves in the middle of their campaign to obtain green cards, Edwina, a Malaysian American immigrant, sets out to find him. Her search will take her on a heart-wrenching journey as she sorts through her feelings regarding her marriage, her relationship with her family, and her burgeoning career.

9. The Emma Project

The fourth and final installment in Sonali Dev’s Rajes series is The Emma Project. This time, all eyes are on Vansh Raje, a handsome, clever, and rich bachelor who has never had to struggle a day in his life… until now. Vansh’s new project has just thrown him back into the orbit of his brother’s ex, Naina. The Rajes froze Naina out when she ended her engagement to Yash, but things between her and Vansh are about to heat up in a big way.

10. The Family Chao

When the owner-operator of Fine Chao — the go-to American Chinese restaurant in Haven, Wisconsin — is found dead after a tense family reunion, all signs indicate that one or more of his sons may have killed him. As Dagou, Ming, and James are tried in the court of public opinion, their longstanding feuds with their father, and with the Haven community at large, come to light.

11. Family in Six Tones

In this joint memoir, Monkey Bridge novelist Lan Cao, a Vietnamese immigrant, and her American-born teenage daughter, Harlan, recount their disparate experiences growing up in the United States, exploring how they relate to one another as two different generations of Americans.

12. The Fervor

After tackling the Donner Party in The Hunger and the Titanic in The Deep, Alma Katsu turns her attention to the internment of Japanese Americans in The Fervor. The story follows Meiko and her daughter, Aiko, who struggle to maintain some sense of normalcy after being forced out of their Seattle home and into an Idaho concentration camp. But when a devastating illness that causes uncontrollable aggression sweeps through the camp, Meiko and Aiko find themselves among a handful of prisoners searching for the cause.

13. Fiona and Jane

Jean Chen Ho’s debut is a novel-in-stories that follows lifelong best friends Fiona and Jane. Both Taiwanese American girls growing up in southern California, Fiona and Jane find themselves separated for the first time when Fiona moves to New York… just before Jane’s father unexpectedly passes away.

14. Forbidden City

As a 16-year-old girl growing up in rural China on the cusp of the Cultural Revolution, Mei’s biggest aspiration is to serve her country as a revolutionary. But when a trip to Beijing to entertain Party leaders turns into an affair with Mao Zedong, Mei’s glimpse behind the curtain may change how she feels about her country’s politics.

15. Four Treasures of the Sky

After being trafficked to San Francisco in the late 1800s, a young Chinese woman struggles to build a life of her own in a country where anti-Chinese sentiments are on the rise. Daiyu moves from San Francisco, where she’s forced to work in a brothel, to Idaho, where she masquerades as a boy and takes a job working in a small store. But no matter how far she goes, Daiyu cannot escape the violence seated deep in the American heart.

16. Honor

When Smita left for America, she never planned to return to India. Now, she’s come back to work on a story about Meena, a Hindu woman whose interfaith marriage has drawn the violent ire of her community. As Smita follows Meena’s tragic love story, however, she finds herself pulled into one of her own — a short-term fling with a local man.

17. House of Many Gods

A pair of unlikely lovers take center stage in this haunting romance. While caring for hurricane victims on Kaua’i, Ana is drawn to Nikolai, a Russian man documenting ecological disasters on both sides of the Pacific. Moving between Hawai’i and Russia, from the 1960s to the New Millennium, House of Many Gods is a breathtaking and heart-wrenching read.

18. Homicide and Halo-Halo

After solving the mystery of her ex’s death in Arsenic and Adobo, Lila returns to catch another killer in Homicide and Halo-Halo — and revisit her pageant-queen past. It’s been years since Lila won the Miss Teen Shady Palms Beauty Pageant, and her cousin and rival, Bernadette, is still salty about it. But when Bernadette becomes the prime suspect in the murder of a pageant judge, she needs Lila’s help to clear her name.

19. Iron Widow

The nation of Huaxia protects itself with Chrysalises: giant robots operated, traditionally, by male pilots and their female concubines, who are connected via a psychic link. The piloting process killed Zetian’s sister, as it did so many other concubines, and now Zetian is out to kill the man responsible. The first time she pilots a Chrysalis, however, Zetian realizes that she has the power to kill her male partners — a discovery that puts her life in jeopardy in new and ever-more-dangerous ways.

20. Kink

From editors R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell comes this collection of literotica. Containing stories written by Roxane Gay, Carmen Maria Machado, Brandon Taylor, and more, Kink is not to be missed.

21. Last Night at the Telegraph Club

Set in Chinatown during the Red Scare, Malinda Lo’s Last Night at the Telegraph Club follows 17-year-old Lily, a Chinese American girl whose position in midcentury America is complicated not only by her race, but also by her sexual orientation. But possibilities begin to open up when she and her BFF, Kath, find a lesbian bar one fateful night.

22. Peach Blossom Spring

When his daughter shows an interest in learning about her heritage, Henry Dao, a Chinese American man, grapples with the painful memories of his past — from his childhood flight from invading Japanese forces to his fears of Communist Party surveillance.

23. Phoenix Extravagant

In this science-fantasy novel from the author of Ninefox Gambit, Gyen Jebi, an unemployed painter and pacifist, makes a grim discovery about the source of the government’s magical paints after they’re drafted by the Ministry of Armor to help bring its mechanical forces to life.

24. The Red Palace

Set in 18th-century Korea — then known as Joseon — The Red Palace centers on 18-year-old Hyeon, a nurse newly hired at the palace, who sets about solving a series of murders after her mentor becomes the prime suspect. Hyeon digs into the case with some assistance from Eojin, a young detective, but when it begins to look like the Crown Prince may be the killer, the duo realize they may be in grave danger.

25. Red Thread of Fate

Tam Kwan’s life is thrown into upheaval when her husband, Tony, and his cousin, Mia, are killed, leaving Tam to care for Mia’s 5-year-old daughter alone. Tony’s death comes just days before the Kwans’ adoption of a Chinese orphan goes through, and Tam must decide if she can raise two children by herself, while grieving a husband she may never truly have known.

26. The School for Good Mothers

One lapse in judgment: That’s all it took for Frida — a young mother struggling to raise her daughter while balancing a lackluster career and a loveless marriage — to be sent away to an intervention program for bad mothers. Now, she’ll have to learn to be a model parent if she wants to get her daughter back.

27. Siren Queen

Luli knows that roles for Chinese American actors are few and far-between — even more so when the actor isn’t willing to play a racist caricature of an Asian woman. So she’s carved out a niche for herself portraying monstrous villains, and she’s willing to claw her way to the top. But it’s not just xenophobia that Luli will have to face off against: This Hollywood is far more magical — and more deadly — than the one we’ve come to know.

28. Somewhere in the Unknown World: A Collective Refugee Memoir

Kao Kalia Yang, a Hmong American refugee from Laos, weaves together refugee stories into this “collective memoir.” Yang doesn’t shy away from experimental writing here, but the result is no less accessible than any number of other memoirs.

29. Stone Fruit

Queer readers will find their own experiences reflected in Lee Lai’s Stone Fruit, which follows Ray and Bron, a queer couple, as they work to maintain their relationships with family members who don’t understand them. Bron’s transness seems to be the sticking point for many of the characters, and Ray’s attempts to explain their relationship and identities to her mother and sister can be particularly frustrating.

30. The Swimmers

When the local public pool closes for repairs, Alice — an avid swimmer living with dementia — suffers from the disruption to her schedule. Going to the pool brought some order to her life, but now she finds herself unstuck in time. Alice’s daughter narrates the story of her decline, in The Swimmers.

31. Yellowface

In recent years, June’s literary career has stagnated, while her friend Athena’s has taken off. So when Athena dies unexpectedly, June can’t help but grab her pal’s final manuscript and pass it off as her own — and even pretend she’s of Chinese descent to do so. For a moment, the charade works. With Athena’s words published under her name, June finally achieves the recognition she craves. But this ill-gotten success isn’t destined to last forever.

32. Y/N

In this clever, surreal novel, a Korean American woman becomes hopelessly obsessed with a K-pop star, and begins writing [Your/Name] fanfiction about him — a type of story that asks the reader, [Y/N], to place themselves at the center of the narrative. When [Y/N] flies to Seoul to be closer to the object of her affection, the narrator comes along for the ride, setting up a topsy-turvy collision between fantasy and reality.

33. Chlorine

If you were a fan of Disney Channel’s The Thirteenth Year growing up, this one’s for you. Chlorine follows Ren Yu, a young swimmer whose whole life revolves around the pool. She’s determined to excel and earn herself a college scholarship, to impress both her parents and her coach — but as her longing to be free grows stronger, her heart pulls her deeper into the water, far away from the concerns of the surface world.

34. Age of Vice

Age of Vice begins with a crime: A Mercedes veers off the road in the middle of the night, leaving five dead on a street in New Delhi. From there, the novel introduces the wealthy Wadia family and those in their orbit, moving across time to tell a story of corruption, intrigue, and violence.

35. Central Places

Visiting home as an adult always comes with challenges, but Audrey Zhou is struggling more than most. After building her dream life in New York, she’s returned to her small Illinois town to introduce her family to her fiancé, a native Manhattanite. August hoped it’d be a quick, easy trip, but between her strained relationship with her parents, and her renewed feelings for her high school crush, it turns out to be anything but.

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