Asian YA (and Asian literature) in general, was largely unknown to me until last year. Now, I’m a massive fan of stories by authors of Asian descent. I will admit that I had to Google to confirm the entire scope of “Asia” and as such will be including books by authors of Indian and Middle Eastern descent in this list. I’ve already done a list of Black YA books in the past, so I was stoked to dive into Asian YA next.
As usual, if I’ve read the book, my review will be below the cover in normal text. Goodreads blurbs will be in Italics. Without further ado, here are 30 of the best Asian YA books.
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30 Best Asian YA Books
American Panda follows seventeen year old Taiwanese-American, Mei. Mei is a germaphobe, forced into a premed program by her very traditional parents. She is afraid to reveal that she instead would rather own a dance studio. Especially after her brother Xing is disowned for choosing a spouse his parents disapprove of.
I enjoyed this book immensely. A perfect blend of wit and substance, American Panda is delightful, inspiring and stimulating. Gloria Chao’s American Panda is thoughtprovoking in its consideration of the perpetuation of traditions among immigrants. People who have left their home countries seem to hold on even tighter to traditions, cherishing these as a link to their home. But, considering that not all traditions have merit, why continue unnecessary, sometimes stifling traditions? Why not instead begin new traditions?
Still, the book is far from all-heavy material. There are sweet moments between Mei and Darren, funny scenes with her dramatic family and great camaraderie between Mei and Xing. It also brings to life the ups and downs of college existence in a university like MIT.
Jin Wang starts at a new school where he’s the only Chinese-American student. When a boy from Taiwan joins his class, Jin doesn’t want to be associated with an FOB like him. Jin just wants to be an all-American boy, because he’s in love with an all-American girl. Danny is an all-American boy: great at basketball, popular with the girls. But his obnoxious Chinese cousin Chin-Kee’s annual visit is such a disaster that it ruins Danny’s reputation at school, leaving him with no choice but to transfer somewhere he can start all over again. The Monkey King has lived for thousands of years and mastered the arts of kung fu and the heavenly disciplines. He’s ready to join the ranks of the immortal gods in heaven. But there’s no place in heaven for a monkey. Each of these characters cannot help himself alone, but how can they possibly help each other? They’re going to have to find a way―if they want to fix the disasters their lives have become.
Susan is the new girl—she’s sharp and driven, and strives to meet her parents’ expectations of excellence. Malcolm is the bad boy—he started raising hell at age fifteen, after his mom died of cancer, and has had a reputation ever since.
Susan’s parents are on the verge of divorce. Malcolm’s dad is a known adulterer.
Susan hasn’t told anyone, but she wants to be an artist. Malcolm doesn’t know what he wants—until he meets her.
Love is messy and families are messier, but in spite of their burdens, Susan and Malcolm fall for each other. The ways they drift apart and come back together are testaments to family, culture, and being true to who you are.
I loved this book!
Ayesha and her friends Sara and Jess jump at the chance of accompanying Ayesha’s uncle on a trip from Australia to Istanbul. But when Ayesha discovers a mysterious note as a result of visiting an old bookshop, their relaxing holiday starts to get a whole lot more complicated! Ayesha finds herself trying to uncover a hundred-year-old Ibn Arabi mystery, while trying to avoid creepy villains, and still making sure that she gets to eat the best doner kebab Istanbul has to offer. It’s all in a day’s sleuthing when you’re Ayesha Dean. Lucky she can count on her best friends to always have her back!
**Fans of Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys will love this new heroine!**
I just saved this one on Scribd and it’s only $2.99 on Kindle!
Sixteen-year-old Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.
I watched the movie before I read this Asian YA novel, and while I recognize that that might not have been the best order, it makes for an interesting perspective. The book and the movie feel like two different things, in a good way. It was nice to get in the minds of LJ and Peter and I definitely feel like I understand the cast of characters better after this.
Sweet, compulsively readable book, this one!
I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful Asian YA novel by Maurene Goo. I didn’t love her debut novel, but this one read so much better to me. Clara Shin is a “cool kid” determined to be unbothered by caring too deeply about anything. But when a prank goes too far, she has to spend her summer working on her dad’s food truck with her nemesis, do-gooder overachieving, Rose.
I loved the character development in this one. The whole story and all the characters felt so authentic and enjoyable without being unbearably saccharine. I’m so excited to read Goo’s upcoming YA novel!Love YA? Then you'll love this list of 30 Asian YA books to read ASAP! Click To Tweet
In this Asian YA novel, Mia and Jake have known each other their whole lives. They’ve endured summer vacations, Sunday brunches, even dentist visits together. Their mothers, who are best friends, are convinced that Mia and Jake would be the perfect couple, even though they can’t stand to be in the same room together.
After Mia’s mom turns away yet another cute boy, Mia and Jake decide they’ve had enough. Together, they hatch a plan to get their moms off their backs. Permanently. All they have to do is pretend to date and then stage the worst breakup of all time―and then they’ll be free.
It’s the perfect plan – except that it turns out maybe Mia and Jake don’t hate each other as much as they once thought…
In this Asian YA novel, Lucy is a bit of a pushover, but she’s ambitious and smart, and she has just received the opportunity of a lifetime: a scholarship to a prestigious school, and a ticket out of her broken-down suburb. Though she’s worried she will stick out like badly cut bangs among the razor-straight students, she is soon welcomed into the Cabinet, the supremely popular trio who wield influence over classmates and teachers alike.
Linh is blunt, strong-willed, and fearless—everything Lucy once loved about herself. She is also Lucy’s last solid link to her life before private school, but she is growing tired of being eclipsed by the glamour of the Cabinet.
As Lucy floats further away from the world she once knew, her connection to Linh—and to her old life—threatens to snap. Sharp and honest, Alice Pung’s novel examines what it means to grow into the person you want to be without leaving yourself behind.
Jasmine’s parents migrated to the US from the Philippines in her early childhood. She becomes captain of her high school cheer team, is one of the best in her class and even wins a National scholarship. The latter event, however reveals a secret her parents have hidden for the last few years: Jasmine and her entire family are undocumented in the US.
As expected, type A, overachiever Jasmine is devastated by the realization that she doesn’t have a green card as she had been told before and doesn’t even qualify for the National scholar award she won. The book follows her budding romance with Royce, the son of a conservative congressman in the midst of all her immigration trials.
I LOVED this Asian YA novel. I expected a wildly unbelievable story, romance, and ending but that was not the case. The book is actually based on the author’s experiences as an immigrant from the Philippines and is very moving and thought provoking. I enjoyed peeking behind the curtain at the way politics works and what undocumented immigrants in the US contend with on a regular basis. I also loved the romance between Royce and Jas. It was very realistic and mature, while retaining the sweetness of teenage love.
I can’t believe I’d never heard of this book before I began reading it! Overall, a superb read, for YA audiences and beyond. Highly recommend!
Ashish Patel didn’t know love could be so…sucky. After being dumped by
his ex-girlfriend, his mojo goes AWOL. Even worse, his parents are
annoyingly, smugly confident they could find him a better match. So, in a
moment of weakness, Ash challenges them to set him up.
The Patels insist that Ashish date an Indian-American girl—under contract. Per subclause 1(a), he’ll be taking his date on “fun” excursions like visiting the Hindu temple and his eccentric Gita Auntie. Kill him now. How is this ever going to work?
Sweetie Nair is many things: a formidable track athlete who can outrun most people in California, a loyal friend, a shower-singing champion. Oh, and she’s also fat. To Sweetie’s traditional parents, this last detail is the kiss of death.
Sweetie loves her parents, but she’s so tired of being told she’s lacking because she’s fat. She decides it’s time to kick off the Sassy Sweetie Project, where she’ll show the world (and herself) what she’s really made of.
Ashish and Sweetie both have something to prove. But with each date they realize there’s an unexpected magic growing between them. Can they find their true selves without losing each other?
Sparks fly between a K-pop starlet and a tabloid reporter in Somewhere Only We Know, a heartwarming rom-com from Maurene Goo.
10:00 p.m.: Lucky is the biggest K-pop star on the scene, and she’s just performed her hit song “Heartbeat” in Hong Kong to thousands of adoring fans. She’s about to debut on The Tonight Show in America, hopefully a breakout performance for her career. But right now? She’s in her fancy hotel, trying to fall asleep but dying for a hamburger.
11:00 p.m.: Jack is sneaking into a fancy hotel, on assignment for his tabloid job that he keeps secret from his parents. On his way out of the hotel, he runs into a girl wearing slippers, a girl who is single-mindedly determined to find a hamburger. She looks kind of familiar. She’s very cute. He’s maybe curious.
12:00 a.m.: Nothing will ever be the same.
It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.
Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother.
But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her—they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds—and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.
Kimi Nakamura loves a good fashion statement.
She’s obsessed with transforming everyday ephemera into Kimi Originals: bold outfits that make her and her friends feel like the Ultimate versions of themselves. But her mother disapproves, and when they get into an explosive fight, Kimi’s entire future seems on the verge of falling apart. So when a surprise letter comes in the mail from Kimi’s estranged grandparents, inviting her to Kyoto for spring break, she seizes the opportunity to get away from the disaster of her life.
When she arrives in Japan, she’s met with a culture both familiar and completely foreign to her. She loses herself in the city’s outdoor markets, art installations, and cherry blossom festival — and meets Akira, a cute aspiring med student who moonlights as a costumed mochi mascot. And what begins as a trip to escape her problems quickly becomes a way for Kimi to learn more about the mother she left behind, and to figure out where her own heart lies.
Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?
Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.
Very cute, light hearted YA about girls in tech, finding the balance between culture and identity and following your dreams. Rishi is definitely up there on my list of favorite male leads!
Overall, great chemistry in a sweet, feel-good Asian YA novel.
The youngest doctor in America, an Indian-American teen makes her rounds—and falls head over heels—in the contemporary romantic comedy Symptoms of a Heartbreak.
Fresh from med school, sixteen-year-old medical prodigy Saira arrives for her first day at her new job: treating children with cancer. She’s always had to balance family and friendships with her celebrity as the Girl Genius—but she’s never had to prove herself to skeptical adult co-workers while adjusting to real life-and-death stakes. And working in the same hospital as her mother certainly isn’t making things any easier.
But life gets complicated when Saira finds herself falling in love with a patient: a cute teen boy who’s been diagnosed with cancer. And when she risks her brand new career to try to improve his chances, it could cost her everything.
It turns out “heartbreak” is the one thing she still doesn’t know how to treat
First off, this book is set in AUSTRALIA! The Aussie accent was a bit disorienting at the beginning of the narration but I got used to it.
Mina and Michael begin this book on opposite sides of the line. Michael’s family runs an organization that is staunchly against “boat people” i.e asylum seeking immigrants. They rally against things they read as Islamization of their country – formation of Islamic schools, women in hijabs etc. Michael goes along with his family’s beliefs until he meets Mina an Afghani refugee, now living in Australia.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this YA novel because it’s one of those that completely flew under my radar after release. The author deftly maneuvers the conversation about Islamophobia and tolerance without sounding preachy. She also shows how difficult it can be to move in the opposite direction of our deeply ingrained beliefs. I especially love the idea that people who are “nice and kind sometimes” can also be racists.
Overall, very mature teenagers in this novel with a good amount of social media featuring — something which novelists can seem to ignore exists in their stories. I especially loved Michael’s character and the amount of growth he undergoes throughout the story. Incisive, enlightening and engaging novel! Highly recommended for high schoolers.
Frank Li has two names. There’s Frank Li, his American name. Then there’s Sung-Min Li, his Korean name. No one uses his Korean name, not even his parents. Frank barely speaks any Korean. He was born and raised in Southern California.
Even so, his parents still expect him to end up with a nice Korean girl–which is a problem, since Frank is finally dating the girl of his dreams: Brit Means. Brit, who is funny and nerdy just like him. Brit, who makes him laugh like no one else. Brit . . . who is white.
As Frank falls in love for the very first time, he’s forced to confront the fact that while his parents sacrificed everything to raise him in the land of opportunity, their traditional expectations don’t leave a lot of room for him to be a regular American teen. Desperate to be with Brit without his parents finding out, Frank turns to family friend Joy Song, who is in a similar bind. Together, they come up with a plan to help each other and keep their parents off their backs. Frank thinks he’s found the solution to all his problems, but when life throws him a curveball, he’s left wondering whether he ever really knew anything about love—or himself—at all.
A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like
potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries
Adam and his mom used to make together.
An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.
But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.
When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break.
Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.
Then her path crosses with Adam’s.
Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister.
Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.
Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.
Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…
Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.
Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.
Seventeen-year-old Ali Chu knows that as the only Asian person at her
school in middle-of-nowhere Indiana, she must be bland as white toast to
survive. This means swapping her congee lunch for PB&Js, ignoring
the clueless racism from her classmates and teachers, and keeping her
mouth shut when people wrongly call her Allie instead of her actual
name, Ah-lee, after the mountain in Taiwan.
Her autopilot existence is disrupted when she finds out that Chase Yu, the new kid in school, is also Taiwanese. Despite some initial resistance due to the they belong together whispers, Ali and Chase soon spark a chemistry rooted in competitive martial arts, joking in two languages, and, most importantly, pushing back against the discrimination they face.
But when Ali’s mom finds out about the relationship, she forces Ali to end it. As Ali covertly digs into the why behind her mother’s disapproval, she uncovers secrets about her family and Chase that force her to question everything she thought she knew about life, love, and her unknowable future.
Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.
“There are three kinds of people in my world:
1. Saints, those special people moving the world forward. Sometimes you glaze over them. Or, at least, I do. They’re in your face so much, you can’t see them, like how you can’t see your nose.
2. Misfits, people who don’t belong. Like me–the way I don’t fit into Dad’s brand-new family or in the leftover one composed of Mom and my older brother, Mama’s-Boy-Muhammad.
Also, there’s Jeremy and me. Misfits. Because although, alliteratively speaking, Janna and Jeremy sound good together, we don’t go together. Same planet, different worlds.
But sometimes worlds collide and beautiful things happen, right?
3. Monsters. Well, monsters wearing saint masks, like in Flannery O’Connor’s stories.
Like the monster at my mosque.
People think he’s holy, untouchable, but nobody has seen under the mask.
Two life-long best friends grow up and begin to grow apart in this honest, deeply felt middle grade debut.
Sara and Nadine.
Nadine and Sara.
It’s only ever been the two of them. Two halves of the same person. Best friends forever—until they aren’t.
Everything has changed this year. Nadine has suddenly skipped a grade and gone to high school without Sara. No matter how hard she fights to save their friendship, Sara can feel it slipping away.
But change can happen from the inside, too. The forever-friend days of running through sprinklers and slurping up ice cream cones may be over. Yet in their place, Sara just might discover something new and wonderful: herself.
Nea Chhim, the spirited heroine of Dragon Chica, struggles with college. Nightmares of war flood the waking memories of this 19-year-old survivor of the Cambodian Killing Fields. Nea decides she must confront the past to overcome her fear and begin her own life in America. Without telling Ma, she hops on a cross-country bus in Nebraska to see her biological father in Southern California. There Nea comes face to face with a man wounded by survivor’s guilt who refuses to acknowledge the family’s secrets. Nea determines to revive his struggling donut shop and help him recover. Her tireless efforts attract a mysterious young man’s attention—is he casing the place for a gang? It is up to Nea to find out the truth: about her family, the war that nearly destroyed them, and herself.
Tiger Girl weaves together Cambodian folklore and its painful past with contemporary American life to create an unforgettable novel about love, war, and acceptance.
Winnie Mehta was never really convinced that Raj was her soul mate, but their love was written in the stars. Literally, a pandit predicted Winnie would find the love of her life before her eighteenth birthday, and Raj meets all the qualifications. Which is why Winnie is shocked when she returns from her summer at film camp to find her boyfriend of three years hooking up with Jenny Dickens. As a self-proclaimed Bollywood expert, Winnie knows this is not how her perfect ending is scripted.
Then there’s Dev, a fellow film geek and one of the few people Winnie can count on. Dev is smart and charming, and he challenges Winnie to look beyond her horoscope and find someone she’d pick for herself. But does falling for Dev mean giving up on her prophecy and her chance to live happily ever after? To find her perfect ending, Winnie will need a little bit of help from fate, family, and of course, a Bollywood movie star.
A bittersweet coming-of-age debut novel set in the Korean community in Toronto in the 1980s.
This haunting coming-of-age story, told through the eyes of a rebellious young girl, vividly captures the struggles of families caught between two cultures in the 1980s. Family secrets, a lost sister, forbidden loves, domestic assaults—Mary discovers as she grows up that life is much more complicated than she had ever imagined. Her secret passion for her English teacher is filled with problems and with the arrival of a promising Korean suitor, Joon-Ho, events escalate in ways that she could never have imagined, catching the entire family in a web of deceit and violence.
A unique and imaginative debut novel, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety evocatively portrays the life of a young Korean Canadian girl who will not give up on her dreams or her family.
Girl in Translation follows newly immigrated Kimberly Chang and her mother after they move from Hong Kong to poverty in Brooklyn, New York. When her mother begins working at a sweatshop, Kim doubles as brilliant student by day and sweatshop worker by night, to help her mother. She also falls in love with one of the other Chinese kids at the factory and must navigate the stark differences between her life as a factory worker and a student at a private secondary school.
Most of all, this book is just enlightening — so eye opening– about sweatshops, what Asian immigrants experience and Chinese culture and superstitions. It is definitely one of those books that will stay with you forever. The only real issue I had with this book was that the ending felt rushed to me. I thought there could’ve been a better conclusion. Still, I enjoyed the story, especially as an audiobook. It will keep you engaged.
kira-kira (kee ra kee ra): glittering; shining Glittering. That’s how Katie Takeshima’s sister, Lynn, makes everything seem. The sky is kira-kira because its color is deep but see-through at the same time. The sea is kira-kira for the same reason. And so are people’s eyes. When Katie and her family move from a Japanese community in Iowa to the Deep South of Georgia, it’s Lynn who explains to her why people stop on the street to stare. And it’s Lynn who, with her special way of viewing the world, teaches Katie to look beyond tomorrow. But when Lynn becomes desperately ill, and the whole family begins to fall apart, it is up to Katie to find a way to remind them all that there is always something glittering — kira-kira — in the future.
Half Asian and half white, Patty Ho has never felt completely home in her skin. Things get worse when a Chinese fortune-teller channels Patty’s future via her belly button…and divines a white guy on her romance horizon. Faster than Patty can add two plus two, her ultra-strict Taiwanese mom freaks out and ships her off to math camp at Stanford. Just as Patty writes off her summer of woe, life starts glimmering will all kinds of possibilities….
When sixteen-year-old Amal decides to wear the hijab full-time, her entire world changes, all because of a piece of cloth…
Sixteen-year-old Amal makes the decision to start wearing the hijab full-time and everyone has a reaction. Her parents, her teachers, her friends, people on the street. But she stands by her decision to embrace her faith and all that it is, even if it does make her a little different from everyone else.
Can she handle the taunts of “towel head,” the prejudice of her classmates, and still attract the cutest boy in school? Brilliantly funny and poignant, Randa Abdel-Fattah’s debut novel will strike a chord in all teenage readers, no matter what their beliefs.
A gorgeous and emotionally resonant debut novel about a half-Japanese teen who grapples with social anxiety and her narcissist mother in the wake of a crushing rejection from art school.
Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.
But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.
Looking to read more Asian lit? Check out this list of 30 of the best Asian YA books! (updated list!) Click To Tweet
There you have ’em! For someone who wasn’t a big fan of YA in general, I’ve been enjoying more books in the genre recently–especially from this list of best Asian YA.
How do you feel about YA novels, Asian YA (which is getting better and better!) and Asian literature in general? Read any Asian YA from this list yet? I’d love to know!
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This book list (Best Asian YA novels) has been updated for July 2019.