10 Must-Read Books by Asian American Authors

May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which celebrates the lives and contributions of inspiring Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders through various mediums. In honor of the holiday, here are 10 books from Asian American authors that you should include on your reading list.

Stack of books

5 Must-Read Books by Asian American Authors for Adults

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Set in the 1990s, Little Fires Everywhere tells the stories of the Richardsons, a middle-class suburban family, and single mother Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl. The book is set in Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, where author Celeste Ng grew up. While Mia is an artist with a mysterious past, the Richardsons follow a strict set of rules and status quo.

The two families find themselves on opposing sides of a custody battle over the adoption of a Chinese baby. Revealed secrets and lives forever changed as a result of this battle. Little Fires Everywhere examines the power of privilege and society’s demands on motherhood.

Hulu released the limited series, Little Fires Everywhere, starring Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Namesake brings the immigrant experience and the idea of identity with the story of the Ganguli family leaving India for the United States, who try their best to become Americans even though they miss home. Gogol, their firstborn, struggles between following his family’s traditions or assimilating to American culture. It’s an experience that many first-generation American children deal with.

There is a 2007 film adaptation of The Namesake starring Kal Penn.

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

All You Can Ever Know, a memoir by Nicole Chung, is a warm and honest reflection on her search for the birth parents who gave her up for adoption. She was placed for adoption by her Korean parents and adopted by a white family in Oregon. When she asks about her birth parents, her adoptive mother says that they could not give her the life she deserved and that “may be all you can ever know”.

As Chung prepares for the birth of her first child, she seeks out her birth parents. She manages to locate an older sister as well as discovering some painful family secrets.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

The Kiss Quotient tells the story of Stella, a math genius on the Autism spectrum, who isn’t great at intimacy and relationships. Stella decides that she needs lots of practice, with a professional. So she hires an escort, Michael, to teach her a thing or two about sex. Of course, it doesn’t take long for them to realize their relationship is more than just what happens inside the bedroom.

In 2016, Helen Hoang was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Her journey inspired The Kiss Quotient.

America is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo

Elaine Castillo explores today’s suburban Filipino migrant community in this ode to Carlos Bulosan’s 1946 tale. America Is Not the Heart tells the story of Hero De Vera, a former doctor from the Philippines. She arrives in the United States haunted by the political upheaval in the Philippines and disowned by her parents. While living with her uncle’s family, Hero slowly comes to terms with what happened in her past. At its core, America Is Not the Heart examines three generations of women in one family struggling to balance the promise of the American dream and the unshakeable grip of history.

5 Awesome Kids’ Books by Asian American Authors

And I didn’t forget about the kids! Here are five kids books from Asian American authors that you should include on your children’s book list.

Bee-Bim Bop by Linda Sue Park (preschool)

Bee-bim bop is a traditional Korean dish of rice topped and then mixed, with meat and vegetables. In this fun book written in rhyme, a hungry child tells about helping her mother make bee-bim bop: shopping, preparing ingredients, setting the table, and finally sitting down with her family to enjoy a favorite meal. The book also includes the author’s recipe.

Dear Juno by Soyung Pak (preschool)

Juno and his grandmother exchange special letters. Juno’s grandmother writes in Korean and Juno writes in drawings. From the photo his grandmother sends him, Juno can tell that she has a new cat. From the picture he makes for her, Juno’s grandmother can tell that he wants her to come for a visit. So she sends Juno a miniature plane, to let him know she’s coming to see him.

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi (preschool)

Being the new kid in school is hard enough, but what about when nobody can pronounce your name? Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious that American kids will like her. On the first day of school, instead of introducing herself with her name, she tells the class that she will choose an American name by the following week.

Her new classmates are fascinated by this no-name girl and decide to help out by adding names to a glass jar for her to choose from. But while Unhei practices being a Suzy, Laura, or Amanda, one of her classmates discovers her real name and its special meaning. On the day of her name selection, the name jar disappears. Encouraged by her new friends, Unhei chooses her own Korean name and helps everyone pronounce it—Yoon-Hey.

Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji by F. Zia (elementary school)

Aneel’s grandparents have come to stay, all the way from India. Aneel loves the sweet smell of his grandmother’s incense, and his grandfather, Dada-ji, tells the world’s best stories. He learns that when Dada-ji was a boy, he had the power of a tiger and that his special power came from making hot, hot roti. Aneel wants to find out if he still has the power of a tiger, but first has to figure out how to whip up a batch of hot, hot roti. This is a sweet book filled with food, family, and fun.

Cora Cooks Pancit by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore (elementary school)

Cora loves being in the kitchen, but she always gets stuck doing the kid jobs like licking the spoon. Finally one day, Cora gets the chance to be her Mama’s assistant. And of all the delicious Filipino dishes she loves, she and Mama decide to make pancit, her favorite noodle dish. With Mama’s help, Cora does the grownup jobs while Mama supervises. This book captures the warmth between mother and daughter as they share a piece of their Filipino heritage.

Do you have any book recommendations by Asian American authors?

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Catie is originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, went to college in San Diego, and moved to North Texas after getting married in 2009. They have lived in Collin County since 2017 and welcomed their son to the world in 2018. She likes to call herself a "naptime entrepreneur" working during her toddler's naps as a personal branding photographer - creating visual content and branded images for creative entrepreneurs and small business owners. In her limited spare time, you'll find her reading a mix of fiction, parenting, and business books, daydreaming about traveling to Europe, giving some attention to their dachshund named Kevin, and watching classics on Disney+ with her husband.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thanks so much for these recommendations! My daughter is Thai, so we love reading Asian inspired books (written by and about Asian characters. We love:
    Tua and the Elephant
    The Umbrella Queen
    Mela and the Elephant
    PEEK – A Thai Hide and Seek
    Hush (Mingfong Ho)
    The Lotus Seed

    I’ve also enjoyed reading The Clay Marble, The Glass Palace, and Miss Burma.

    We are working our way through the “Pack and Go Girls” series now (reading the 2 based in Thailand) and next up we’ll read Carolyn Marsden’s books based on Thai characters!

    I am so thankful that my daughter has all of these beautiful literary works to connect her to her culture! ❤️

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