May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month. To celebrate AAPI identities, cultures, and narratives, I compiled 10 of my favorite books by AAPI authors for you to add to your reading lists! Some of these books moved me to tears, some made me laugh out loud, and some made my heart race, but they all have one thing in common: they lingered in the back of my mind long after I turned the last page. They’re the kind of books that stay with you. I hope you find a story that resonates with you among these books, and I hope that you continue to read diversely even after the month comes to an end.
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On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
I had to start the list off with this book because none other has stayed with me—haunted me—quite like this one. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is poignant letter that reads like poetry from a Vietnamese immigrant to his mother who can’t read. He pieces together fragments of his life, reflecting on race, identity, sexuality, and grief with a raw intensity that moved me to tears, especially as a Vietnamese-American myself. The language and writing are exquisite, and the book as a whole is a truly visceral experience.
The Poppy War by R.F Kuang
This is without a doubt one of my favorite fantasy series. The sheer scope and depth of this trilogy is incredible, from the world building to the mythology to the history. It’s a story of gods and monsters, war and vengeance. I really appreciated how thought-provoking the story was—Kuang illustrated the cycles of violence and horrors of war (inspired by historic events in the second Sino-Japanese war) masterfully. Definitely one of the greatest works of fantasy, and one of the most devastating, I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.
The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan by Sherry Thomas
The Magnolia Sword has echoes of the Mulan we’re familiar with—a girl disguises herself as a man and goes to war in her father’s stead—but the story itself is very different. This wuxia-inspired reimagined tale of Mulan in 5th century AD China is rich in history and customs of the past, which makes the world so much more immersive. While there are many Mulan retellings out there, none has elicited the same feelings this book has. I devoured it in a single day.
The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
One of my favorite contemporary romances, The Bride Test follows Khai, an autistic Vietnamese-American who finds himself in a peculiar situation thanks to his mother. Enter Esme, a single mom living in Hồ Chí Minh city who is desperate to give her family a better life. She has one summer to try to get Khai to fall in love and marry her. I loved this book for many reasons. My mom is a Vietnamese immigrant who raised me by herself, so I could really understand the challenges Esme faced. Hoang weaves Vietnamese culture into the story seamlessly, and the romance was a pure delight.
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo
There’s a dreamlike quality to this story that’s difficult to fully depict but impossible to forget. A wistfulness for bygone summer days; a bittersweet nostalgia through rose-tinted lens. Vo reimagines The Great Gatsby from Jordan Baker’s perspective as a queer Vietnamese immigrant in the most elite circles of 1920s American society, where she existed in a liminal space—a borderline between acceptable and not. Beneath the glitter and glamour, the opulence and dazzling lights, was an empty and perhaps monstrous man who you might be familiar with.
Descendant of the Crane by Joan He
A princess thrown into power, a kingdom in turmoil, and a riveting murder mystery. This Chinese-inspired YA fantasy has all the political intrigue and power dynamics along with lush writing and cohesive world building. There are several twists and revelations that will catch you completely blindsided. You know that feeling when you think you’ve got it figured out only to learn that you were wrong all along? The plot twists are just that great.
The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig
Time travel, adventure, pirates, and mythology. Nix has been on board The Temptation all her life; her father the captain of the ship. They travel through time with magic and different maps, and their destination? 1868 Honolulu, when Nix’s mother died giving birth to her. I adored the blend of fantasy and history, and the descriptive writing made me feel like I was right alongside the cast of characters, navigating through time myself.
Anna K. by Jenny Lee
This modern day reimagining of Anna Karenina definitely lives up to the Crazy Rich Asians meets Gossip Girl pitch, immersing us in the lives of the elite, upper echelon of Manhattan. Featuring a diverse cast of characters, Lee touches on important themes like class privilege, sexism, racial disparity, and internalized racism. I really enjoyed the insight on Korean culture—traditional values vs modern, which I found relatable to my Vietnamese upbringing. An entertaining and fresh take on a timeless classic.
Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean
This was everything my Princess Diaries-loving heart could ever want. A Japanese American girl finds out that her father is none other than the Crown Prince of Japan, making her a princess. Caught between two worlds, she has to deal with the hungry press, crazy cousins, and a scowling bodyguard. I loved Izumi’s girl gang, the exploration of identity and culture, and the family dynamics. Of course, the sweet bodyguard romance was a plus! An overall fun and lighthearted story.