Many fantastic novels and books with Asian American protagonists have been published, especially in the last few years. It’s been a noticeable trend since before, when it came to Asian representation, there were largely only historical fiction and books with Asian characters set in Asia (as least for books with decent marketing budgets).
I think it’s so exciting that publishing is making strides in better representation, and I thought Chinese Year Year would be the perfect time to celebrate these novels and books!
Crazy Rich Asians was a particularly notable release for me. I remember reading this with my book club and then later going with some of my childhood friends to see the adaptation in theaters. It’s crazy that it was probably the first time any of us had ever seen a movie with an Asian American main character in theaters, ever.
Also, for more Chinese New Year festivity, here’s my dog Peanut in her Chinese Lion Dance outfit!
What It's About: Crazy Rich Asians is the outrageously funny debut novel about three super-rich, pedigreed Chinese families and the gossip, backbiting, and scheming that occurs when the heir to one of the most massive fortunes in Asia brings home his ABC (American-born Chinese) girlfriend to the wedding of the season...Publication Date: June 11, 2013
What It's About: A memoir about growing up Korean American, losing her mother, and forging her own identity.
Michelle Zauner tells of growing up one of the few Asian American kids at her school in Eugene, Oregon; of struggling with her mother's particular, high expectations of her; of a painful adolescence; of treasured months spent in her grandmother's tiny apartment in Seoul, where she and her mother would bond, late at night, over heaping plates of food...Publication Date: April 20, 2021
What It's About: On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family's history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation...Publication Date: June 4, 2019
What It's About: Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.
So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos...Publication Date: June 26, 2014
What It's About: In this taut and explosive debut novel, one lapse in judgement lands a young mother in a government reform program where custody of her child hangs in the balance.
Frida Liu is struggling. She doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices. She can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his wellness-obsessed younger mistress...Publication Date: January 4, 2022
What It's About: From the infinitely inventive author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe comes a deeply personal novel about race, pop culture, immigration, assimilation, and escaping the roles we are forced to play.
Willis Wu doesn't perceive himself as a protagonist even in his own life: he's merely Generic Asian Man...Publication Date: January 28, 2020
What It's About: Alternate cover editions for this ISBN can be found here.
Four mothers, four daughters, four families, whose histories shift with the four winds depending on who's telling the stories. In 1949, four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, meet weekly to play mahjong and tell stories of what they left behind in China...Publication Date: September 21, 2006
What It's About: How far will you go to protect your family? Will you keep their secrets? Ignore their lies?
In a small town in Virginia, a group of people know each other because they’re part of a special treatment center, a hyperbaric chamber that may cure a range of conditions from infertility to autism...Publication Date: April 16, 2019
What It's About: One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant named Polly, goes to her job at the nail salon and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her.
With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left with no one to care for him. He is eventually adopted by two white college professors who move him from the Bronx to a small town upstate...Publication Date: May 2, 2017
What It's About: Margot Lee's mother, Mina, isn't returning her calls. It's a mystery to twenty-six-year-old Margot, until she visits her childhood apartment in Koreatown, LA, and finds that her mother has suspiciously died. The discovery sends Margot digging through the past, unraveling the tenuous invisible strings that held together her single mother's life as a Korean War orphan and an undocumented immigrant, only to realize how little she truly knew about her mother...Publication Date: September 1, 2020
What It's About: Ali Wong's heartfelt and hilarious letters to her daughters (the two she put to work while they were still in utero), covering everything they need to know in life, like the unpleasant details of dating, how to be a working mom in a male-dominated profession, and how she trapped their dad.
In her hit Netflix comedy special Baby Cobra, an eight-month pregnant Ali Wong resonated so heavily that she became a popular Halloween costume...Publication Date: October 15, 2019
What It's About: A New York Times Notable Book
One of the Best Books of the Year: Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Entertainment Weekly, Slate
In A Free Life, Ha Jin follows the Wu family — father Nan, mother Pingping, and son Taotao — as they sever their ties with China in the aftermath of the 1989 massacre at Tiananmen Square and begin a new life in the United States...Publication Date: January 1, 2007
What It's About: A publishing event: Bestselling author Ken Liu selects his award-winning science fiction and fantasy tales for a groundbreaking collection—including a brand-new piece exclusive to this volume.
With his debut novel, The Grace of Kings, taking the literary world by storm, Ken Liu now shares his finest short fiction in The Paper Menagerie...Publication Date: March 8, 2016
What It's About: Candace Chen, a millennial drone self-sequestered in a Manhattan office tower, is devoted to routine. So she barely notices when a plague of biblical proportions sweeps New York. Then Shen Fever spreads. Families flee. Companies halt operations. The subways squeak to a halt. Soon entirely alone, still unfevered, she photographs the eerie, abandoned city as the anonymous blogger NY Ghost...Publication Date: August 14, 2018
What It's About: Charles Wang, the patriarch at the heart of The Wangs V. the World, was raised in Taiwan, having fled the Communists in mainland China. He grows up with a yen for his family’s unseen acres in a lost homeland. He is a brash, brilliant, lovable asshole who came to America and built a cosmetics fortune...Publication Date: October 4, 2016
What It's About: An electric debut novel set against the twilight of the American gold rush, two siblings are on the run in an unforgiving landscape--trying not just to survive but to find a home.
Ba dies in the night; Ma is already gone. Newly orphaned children of immigrants, Lucy and Sam are suddenly alone in a land that refutes their existence...Publication Date: April 7, 2020
What It's About: Immigrant. Socialite. Magician.
Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarefied circles of 1920s American society—she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. She’s also queer, Asian, adopted, and treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, while the most important doors remain closed to her...Publication Date: June 1, 2021
What It's About: Librarian's note: An alternate cover edition can be found here
Navigating between the Indian traditions they've inherited and the baffling new world, the characters in Jhumpa Lahiri's elegant, touching stories seek love beyond the barriers of culture and generations. In "A Temporary Matter," published in The New Yorker, a young Indian-American couple faces the heartbreak of a stillborn birth while their Boston neighborhood copes with a nightly blackout...Publication Date: April 20, 1999
You have a couple of my favorites here, and I’d like to read a couple of the others. Thanks for posting them! I’d add The Astonishing Color of After, by Emily X.R. Pan to the list too. I found it remarkable.
Thanks for this list! I see several I want to read. I would include Ruth Ozeki on this list — any book she has written is stellar.
What about The Island of Sea Women?
In “books with Asian American protagonists,” I am currently anticipating Take No Names by Daniel Nieh (sequel to Beijing Payback) coming out next week.