21 Asian YA novels to Read ASAP

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 21 of the best Asian YA books.

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21 Best Asian YA Books

American Panda

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.

American Born Chinese

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.

Ayesha Dean – The Istanbul Intrigue

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!

To All the Boys I Loved Before (Trilogy)

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 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!

The Way You Make Me Feel

I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful 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!

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Lucy and Linh

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.

Something in Between

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 book. 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!

A Very Large Expanse of Sea

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.

When Dimple Met Rishi

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 novel.

The Lines We Cross

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.

Saints and Misfits

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.

Except me.”

Running Through Sprinklers

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.

Tiger Girl

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.

My So-Called Bollywood Life

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.

Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety

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

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

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.

Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies)

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….

Does My Head Look Big in This?

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.

Starfish

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.

Love, Hate, and Other Filters


Looking to read more Asian lit? Check out this list of 21 of the best Asian YA books! 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 and Asian literature in general? Read any Asian YA from this list yet? I’d love to know!

-Afoma

best asian ya

4 thoughts on “21 Asian YA novels to Read ASAP

  1. Ahh what a fantastic list and thank you so much for all of the recommendations! I read and really enjoyed American Panda, as well as the Lara Jean series so, so much. Starfish was also such a beautiful, yet hard to read at times, book and I loved it 🙂
    Thank you for sharing! 🙂

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