Hello friends. 💛
Welcome to my TBR for the Year of the Asian Reading Challenge! Yes, I know: it’s already February, I am one of the co-hosts, and why haven’t I made my TBR yet?! To be fair, I’ve been absolutely swamped with my Masters (only a week and a bit to go before hand in, good grief 😭), and have been writing up my blog posts in the dead of the night after a whole day of writing. Phew. I can’t wait for this Masters thesis to be over.
(Also, I apologise for the recycled graphic today! Unfortunately I’m a bit pressed for time and couldn’t draw something new, but look out for a special TBR illustration the next time I share books I plan to read.)
But, before I get onto my TBR, there’s something that needs to be said, which has shaped the TBR that I will be sharing with you all today.
First, an apology
One of the most valuable things that book blogging and being an advocate of diverse books has taught me is accountability. Not only keeping others accountable of their actions, but also keeping myself accountable.
Earlier this week, a fellow book blogger rightfully called out how there’s a lack of attention towards West Asian and South Asian books, and how, when recommending Asian books, East Asian and South East Asian books get more attention. After seeing this tweet, I reflected and I recognised that I had recently done the same thing with my Year of the Asian Reading Challenge recommendations post. In my post, I recommended eight books that had tropes, as part of our monthly prompts. The problem, however, was that of the eight that I personally recommended, most of them were East Asian and South-East Asian, and one of them was South Asian. Reading the call out, I knew this was true and absolutely warranted. I was rightfully called out — and it doesn’t matter to me whether it was intended to call me out personally. What does matter is that the call out was 100% true and applicable to me.
As a co-host of Year of the Asian Reading Challenges (YARC), one of my goals was to get others to join in to read more Asian books. Although I was conscious, from the very beginning, that we had to be more inclusive of West Asian books, I see now that I didn’t hold myself up to that intent. One of my policies as a book blogger was that I would never recommend a book that I have never read, a policy which I held myself to because of previous experiences. However, therein lies my problem: I, personally, haven’t read a lot of South and West Asian books, and thus could not recommend any. But, I can do a heck lot better than that. Regardless, I recognise that I have failed as a co-host and my responsibility as one, of an event dedicated to reading more Asian books, for not being inclusive of all Asians and focused disproportionately on East and South-East Asian books.
I apologise to South and West Asian readers for not doing my part in uplifting your stories and for not doing my best to help you find the books that represent you. To the person who called me out, whom I shall not name because I respect your privacy, I am sorry that you had to make the call out in the first place and that I wasn’t doing my best from the get go.
However, I want to do more than just apologise; I am holding myself accountable and will do better, and I don’t want to perpetuate the erasure and further marginalisation of South and West Asian readers and writers and people. You all deserve so much better than that.
Hence why, today, I will be sharing with you all my YARC reading list (and recommendations of some truly brilliant books that I already have read) which is filled with South and West Asian books to address this gap in my reading. I’ve already placed holds on them in my library, and can’t wait to start reading these when I finish my Masters thesis at the end of this month.
I hope this is also an opportunity for you to have a look through your YARC tbr’s and ask yourself whether there are any West and South Asian books there. And, if you aren’t sure where to start, don’t fret, because my TBR is nothing but South and West Asian books, so I hope you can join me in reading them.
What I am Aiming For
So far, I have read four books by Asian authors. I’m an extraordinarily slow reader but what’s a reading challenge without the challenge?
That’s why, I will be aiming for the most adorable, most clingy with the best ‘no-longer-endangered-but-still-vulnerable-stop-destroying-their-HOMES!!’ comeback: the Giant Panda. In other words, I will be aiming to read 31 – 40 Asian books this year.
1. Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan
High-school junior Leila has made it most of the way through Armstead Academy without having a crush on anyone, which is something of a relief. Her Persian heritage already makes her different from her classmates; if word got out that she liked girls, life would be twice as hard. But when a sophisticated, beautiful new girl, Saskia, shows up, Leila starts to take risks she never thought she would, especially when it looks as if the attraction between them is mutual. Struggling to sort out her growing feelings and Saskia’s confusing signals, Leila confides in her old friend, Lisa, and grows closer to her fellow drama tech-crew members, especially Tomas, whose comments about his own sexuality are frank, funny, wise, and sometimes painful. Gradually, Leila begins to see that almost all her classmates are more complicated than they first appear to be, and many are keeping fascinating secrets of their own.
I read one of Farizan’s stories in the Fresh Ink anthology, about a queer Persian girl who introduces her girlfriend to her immigrant grandmother. It was such a lovely story, and I’m particularly to keen to read Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel. The book centers on a Persian teen, who is a closeted lesbian, and how her story with Leila and their attraction unfolds. It sounds like it promises a queer story about identity, navigating sexuality, and high school shenanigans. This sounds like a delightful story, one that I’m super excited to read.
Note: book contains anti-bisexuality.
2. We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal
Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the king. If Zafira was exposed as a girl, all of her achievements would be rejected; if Nasir displayed his compassion, his father would punish him in the most brutal of ways.
Both are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya—but neither wants to be.
War is brewing, and the Arz sweeps closer with each passing day, engulfing the land in shadow. When Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the king on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter. But an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds—and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine.
We Hunt The Flame isn’t out until May 14th, but I cannot wait to read this! From what I have heard from early reviews, this sounds like a sweeping fantasy with delightful characters and rich worldbuilding. We Hunt the Flame is inspired by ancient Arabia, which is in West Asian, and it sounds like it features reluctant heroes? and is a quest story, which I LOVE.
3. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.
I somehow slept on this book during the height of its hype in 2017 and after hearing all the praise, it’s been on my mind ever since. Though the book is set in an unnamed Middle-Eastern city, apparently the Hamid himself has said that this book is largely based on Pakistan. What I didn’t know, after looking into the book a bit more, was that this book contains elements of fabulism, which I love and amplifies my excitement to read this book tenfold. I can’t wait to read this.
4. Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri
The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended of desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Empire for the power in their blood. Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember, but whose face and magic she has inherited.
When Mehr’s power comes to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda.
Should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance…
I currently have this book sitting on my bedside table, and this will probably be my first read from this TBR. When I heard about Empire of Sand, I knew instantly that this was probably going to be a book that I would love – a blend of magic, the protagonist is a magic-user, and is inspired by Mughal India? This sounds so wonderful and gorgeous, and although I’ve heard that the pacing is slow, I do love slow-paced books if done right. I can’t wait to read this. 💛
5. Fire Boy by Sami Shah
Growing up in Karachi isn’t easy. Wahid has a lot on his mind: the girl he likes, mostly, but also choosing a good university and finding time to play Dungeons and Dragons. Oh, and the fact that he can see djinns, other-worldly creatures made of a smokeless and scorching fire. After a horrific car accident kills his best friend and djinns steal his girlfriend’s soul, Wahid vows to find out why. Fortunately, he has help in finding the djinns that tried to kill him. Unfortunately, that help is from the darkest of all spirits, the Devil himself …
Fire Boy is filled with supernatural entities and high-paced action, but it also gives the reader a vivid insight into life in Pakistan.
Aimal from Bookshelves and Paperbacks has raved about this book for years, and I’m determined to finally read it. Set in Karachi, Pakistan, Fire Boy is a story that promises supernatural entities and action. Although I’m not a big horror fan (because I am the biggest chicken-poop believer that is still scared of the dark), I can’t deny that Fire Boy sounds extremely compelling and my interest is piqued.
6. You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins
This elegant young adult novel captures the immigrant experience for one Indian-American family with humor and heart. Told in alternating teen voices across three generations, You Bring the Distant Near explores sisterhood, first loves, friendship, and the inheritance of culture–for better or worse.
From a grandmother worried that her children are losing their Indian identity to a daughter wrapped up in a forbidden biracial love affair to a granddaughter social-activist fighting to preserve Bengali tigers, award-winning author Mitali Perkins weaves together the threads of a family growing into an American identity.
Here is a sweeping story of five women at once intimately relatable and yet entirely new.
You Bring the Distant Star Near was a LitCelebrAsian book club pick at one point, but my library regrettably didn’t have any available copies at the time. Now is a great time to catch up on reading this! I haven’t read a generational story in a long time (I think the last time I did was Homegoing, so I can’t wait to read about and learn the lives of the Indian-American family in You Bring the Distant Star Near.
7. Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
American-born seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There’s the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home, and being paired off with an older Muslim boy her mom deems “suitable.” And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City—and maybe (just maybe) pursuing a boy she’s known from afar since grade school, a boy who’s finally falling into her orbit at school.
There’s also the real world, beyond Maya’s control. In the aftermath of a horrific crime perpetrated hundreds of miles away, her life is turned upside down. The community she’s known since birth becomes unrecognizable; neighbors and classmates alike are consumed with fear, bigotry, and hatred. Ultimately, Maya must find the strength within to determine where she truly belongs.
I’ve yet to read any books by Samira Ahmed, but am hoping to rectify that by reading Love, Hate, and Other Filters. I absolutely adored Ahmed’s story in the Color Outside the Lines anthology, which was about an Indian girl who meets an Irish soldier (the story made me cry my eyes out). I know how much Fadwa from Word Wonders loves this book, so I can’t wait to join her in all the love for this book.
8. Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
Life is quiet and ordinary in Amal’s Pakistani village, but she had no complaints, and besides, she’s busy pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher one day. Her dreams are temporarily dashed when—as the eldest daughter—she must stay home from school to take care of her siblings. Amal is upset, but she doesn’t lose hope and finds ways to continue learning. Then the unimaginable happens—after an accidental run-in with the son of her village’s corrupt landlord, Amal must work as his family’s servant to pay off her own family’s debt.
Life at the opulent Khan estate is full of heartbreak and struggle for Amal—especially when she inadvertently makes an enemy of a girl named Nabila. Most troubling, though, is Amal’s growing awareness of the Khans’ nefarious dealings. When it becomes clear just how far they will go to protect their interests, Amal realizes she will have to find a way to work with others if they are ever to exact change in a cruel status quo, and if Amal is ever to achieve her dreams.
It’s been a long long time since I’ve read middle grade novels, so I’m hoping to change that by reading Amal Unbound. At first I was drawn to this book’s gorgeous cover, but reading the summary more deeply and that it’s about a Pakistani girl in Pakistan, this sounds like something I’d absolutely love. There’s something so empowering about middle grade novels, especially when the main characters have dreams they want to pursue, but also navigate their way through issues that they are starting to witness and understand.
9. Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi
Twelve-year-old Aru Shah has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. While her classmates are jetting off to family vacations in exotic locales, she’ll be spending her autumn break at home, in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture, waiting for her mom to return from her latest archeological trip. Is it any wonder that Aru makes up stories about being royalty, traveling to Paris, and having a chauffeur?
One day, three schoolmates show up at Aru’s doorstep to catch her in a lie. They don’t believe her claim that the museum’s Lamp of Bharata is cursed, and they dare Aru to prove it. Just a quick light, Aru thinks. Then she can get herself out of this mess and never ever fib again.
But lighting the lamp has dire consequences. She unwittingly frees the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose duty it is to awaken the God of Destruction. Her classmates and beloved mother are frozen in time, and it’s up to Aru to save them.
I’ve yet to read any books from the Rick Riordan Presents series, and I’m super excited to pick up Chokshi’s book, Aru Shah and the End of Time. This sounds like such a delightful blend of urban fantasy and mythology, and I’d love to see Chokshi’s writing, which is gorgeous and lush, for a middle grade audience. Also, I am super curious to see how our Aru, an Indian-American girl, will navigate the challenges set before her! So excited!
10. The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta
On the morning of her twelfth birthday, Kiranmala is just a regular sixth grader living in Parsippany, New Jersey… until her parents mysteriously vanish and a drooling rakkhosh demon slams through her kitchen, determined to eat her alive. Turns out there might be some truth to her parents’ fantastical stories-like how Kiranmala is a real Indian princess and how she comes from a secret place not of this world.
To complicate matters, two crush-worthy princes ring her doorbell, insisting they’ve come to rescue her. Suddenly, Kiran is swept into another dimension full of magic, winged horses, moving maps, and annoying, talking birds. There she must solve riddles and battle demons all while avoiding the Serpent King of the underworld and the Rakkhoshi Queen in order to find her parents and basically save New Jersey, her entire world, and everything beyond it…
How gorgeous and compelling is this cover? The summary for The Serpent’s Secret reminds me of The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, except that it’s middle-grade, has Indian mythology, and the protagonist may be an Indian princess! I love the idea of this story so much already, and can’t wait to join Kiran on her adventure.
11. Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives.
At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the US—and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before. But this life also brings unexpected surprises—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.
This lovely middle grade with one of the most stunning covers I have seen in a long time doesn’t release until May, but I’m definitely going to be first in line to read this! This sounds like a lovely and empowering and important story about identity and navigating through the new – new friends, new home, and new everything. I can’t wait to meet Jude, a Syrian girl, and follow her on her journey. This is also written in verse (and I haven’t read a book in verse in a long time, since Brown Girl Dreaming), so I’m very excited to read this.
12. The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil
Sophia is smart, like genius-calculator-brain smart. But there are some things no amount of genius can prepare you for, and the messiness of real life is one of them. When everything she knows is falling apart, how can she crack the puzzle of what to do with her life?
Joshua spends his time honing magic tricks and planning how to win Sophia’s heart. But when your best trick is making schoolwork disappear, how do you possibly romance a genius?
In life and love, timing is everything.
I wanted to make sure that I read a book that contained Sri Lankan rep, so was delighted to find The Secret Science of Magic, which is set in Australia as well! This sounds like a book about how opposites attract, and there isn’t a story more compelling about how science meets magic. Jananee from Head in Her Books has written a profound and insightful #ownvoices review of this book, which motivates me even more to read it.
13. What Lies Between Us by Nayomi Munaweera
In the idyllic hill country of Sri Lanka, a young girl grows up with her loving family; but even in the midst of this paradise, terror lurks in the shadows. When tragedy strikes, she and her mother must seek safety by immigrating to America. There the girl reinvents herself as an American teenager to survive, with the help of her cousin; but even as she assimilates and thrives, the secrets and scars of her past follow her into adulthood. In this new country of freedom, everything she has built begins to crumble around her, and her hold on reality becomes more and more tenuous. When the past and the present collide, she sees only one terrible choice.
I didn’t want to limit myself to just young adult, so decided to add What Lies Between Us, an adult mystery/thriller about a Sri Lankan woman who immigrates to American. I’m not a big mystery/thriller reader, but, wow, this book sounds so interesting and I really want to know what happened? I am so curious and excited to read this.
14. The Candle and the Flame
Fatima lives in the city of Noor, a thriving stop along the Silk Road. There the music of myriad languages fills the air, and people of all faiths weave their lives together. However, the city bears scars of its recent past, when the chaotic tribe of Shayateen djinn slaughtered its entire population — except for Fatima and two other humans. Now ruled by a new maharajah, Noor is protected from the Shayateen by the Ifrit, djinn of order and reason, and by their commander, Zulfikar.
But when one of the most potent of the Ifrit dies, Fatima is changed in ways she cannot fathom, ways that scare even those who love her. Oud in hand, Fatima is drawn into the intrigues of the maharajah and his sister, the affairs of Zulfikar and the djinn, and the dangers of a magical battlefield.
Beyond textbooks and historical articles about the Silk Road, I don’t think I’ve actually read a book about the Silk Road. Thus, I absolutely cannot wait for The Candle and the Flame to release on May 14th! I love the blend of fantasy and historical, and Nafiza has pitched this book about ‘women being women in the most fantastic ways possible’, so… I’m definitely excited, and you should too!
In addition to my TBR, I thought I’d recommend some West and South Asian books that I have read in the past and can recommend!
1. Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram
Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, and it’s pretty overwhelming–especially when he’s also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. In Iran, he gets to know his ailing but still formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom’s family for the first time. And he meets Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything.
Sohrab makes sure people speak English so Darius can understand what’s going on. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understands that sometimes, best friends don’t have to talk. Darius has never had a true friend before, but now he’s spending his days with Sohrab playing soccer, eating rosewater ice cream, and sitting together for hours in their special place, a rooftop overlooking the Yazdi skyline.
Sohrab calls him Darioush–the original Persian version of his name–and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab. When it’s time to go home to America, he’ll have to find a way to be Darioush on his own.
This was easily one of my favourite books of 2018 – perhaps ever? – and I cannot recommend this enough. I recently reviewed it, and praised Darius the Great Is Not Okay for its quirky and fun narrative, heartfelt and meaningful discourse on family, identity, and belonging, and also its candid portrayal of depression. Such a brilliant book, and it recently won the William C. Morris Debut Award!
2. When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah
When Michael meets Mina, they are at a rally for refugees – standing on opposite sides.
Mina fled Afghanistan with her mother via a refugee camp, a leaky boat and a detention centre.
Michael’s parents have founded a new political party called Aussie Values.
They want to stop the boats.
Mina wants to stop the hate.
When Mina wins a scholarship to Michael’s private school, their lives crash together blindingly.
I realised I haven’t recommended this book in a long time, which is an injustice and failure on my part because this book is so brilliant and electrifying. Set in Australia, it follows Mina and Michael, on ‘opposite sides’ of the refugee debate, and how they grapple with their attraction to one another, learn from each other (well, Michael the White-Australian mostly learns from Mina, as he should), and explores the discourse on immigration, racism, xenophobia, and refugees.
3. Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan
Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized.
I adore this gorgeous middle-grade novel to the moon and back, and everyone who loves soft, empowering, and pure books should read Amina’s Voice. Most profound across Amina’s Voice is the theme of change, and how Amina navigates the changes that are beginning to happen in her life. It examines friendships, family, religion, and how communities come together. And yes! I named Amina after the protagonist of Amina’s Voice. That’s how much I loved it.
4. The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury
When Aladdin discovers Zahra’s jinni lamp, Zahra is thrust back into a world she hasn’t seen in hundreds of years—a world where magic is forbidden and Zahra’s very existence is illegal. She must disguise herself to stay alive, using ancient shape-shifting magic, until her new master has selected his three wishes.
But when the King of the Jinn offers Zahra a chance to be free of her lamp forever, she seizes the opportunity—only to discover she is falling in love with Aladdin. When saving herself means betraying him, Zahra must decide once and for all: is winning her freedom worth losing her heart?
I still remember the wonder and awe and comfort I felt after finishing this book. The Forbidden Wish is just such a magical retelling of Aladdin. This book is gorgeous, beautifully written, and has some wonderful moments that celebrate sisterhood, female friendships, and love that transcends time and space.
5. Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier
Dimple Lala doesn’t know what to think. She’s spent her whole life resisting her parents’ traditions. But now she’s turning seventeen and things are more complicated than ever. She’s still recovering from a year-old break-up and her best friend isn’t around the way she used to be. Then, to make matters worse, her parents arrange for her to meet a “suitable boy.” Of course, it doesn’t go well… until Dimple goes to a club and finds him spinning a magical web of words and music. Suddenly the suitable boy is suitable because of his sheer unsuitability. Complications ensue.
I read this book two years ago, and to be honest I have never quite forgotten it. It’s just such a memorable and special character study of Dimple. Although this book is indeed quite long (512 pages! well, long to me), you won’t forget Dimple’s family, the friendships, the shenanigans that she gets up to and is pulled into, her feelings about identity, her alienation with her culture, and following your dreams. It’s a bit of an old book, 2014, but still a goodie. I totally recommend this.
This post is much longer than I had anticipated (5000 words!) but I hope this post has helped you find some new books to add to your TBRs.
In addition, I hope that this post will prompt you to evaluate the books currently on your Year of the Asian Reading Challenge to-read lists, and that you can gently ask yourself: am I including West and South Asian stories too?
Lastly, I’ve been talking to Neha, blogger at BiblioNyan, for several weeks now about South Asian representation, and we’re hopefully going to be planning a collab soon! South and West Asian bloggers out there, if you’re keen to join in on the collab, please watch this space and follow Neha and I‘s twitters. 💛
- What West or South Asian books do you currently have on your YARC2019 TBR – or just your general TBR?
- Are there any books here on my TBR that interest you, and that you’re thinking of reading as well?