Asian and Pasifika Heritage Month Edition is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond during the month of May, where Asian and Pasifika authors are invited to celebrate being Asian and Pasifika work and literature! Find the introduction post for Asian and Pasifika Heritage Month here.
What a month May has been for the Pond! We hosted 16 Asian and Pasifika authors this month, and I am so proud and happy with the awesome stuff that my co-bloggers and I did to uplift and share Asian and Pasifika literature this month. And of course, thank you to everyone who visited, shared and supported our work, and joined in our celebrations for Asian Pasifika Heritage Month. (Here is a full list of all the features we did this month!)
As is our custom here at the Pond, we love closing our month-long guest series with a huge recommendation post. Most of these books will be familiar (because our guests talked about them this month!), and we are delighted to put together an incredible list of brilliant stories that hold immense power to shape, inspire, and change lives.
So here it is: our list of 35 awesome Asian and Pasifika books to read today and after Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month!
A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi
Set against the backdrop of Karachi, Pakistan, Saadia Faruqi’s tender and honest middle grade novel tells the story of two girls navigating a summer of change and family upheaval with kind hearts, big dreams, and all the right questions.
Mimi is not thrilled to be spending her summer in Karachi, Pakistan, with grandparents she’s never met. Secretly, she wishes to find her long-absent father, and plans to write to him in her beautiful new journal.
The cook’s daughter, Sakina, still hasn’t told her parents that she’ll be accepted to school only if she can improve her English test score—but then, how could her family possibly afford to lose the money she earns working with her Abba in a rich family’s kitchen?
Although the girls seem totally incompatible at first, as the summer goes on, Sakina and Mimi realize that they have plenty in common—and that they each need the other to get what they want most.
CW: I had the privilege of interviewing the author, Saadia Faruqi, and if you haven’t read this gem of a book yet, read the interview – and then I promise you’ll be eager to read this book.
- I’m honestly in awe of how powerful yet understated this book is. The two girls, Sakina and Mimi, have a powerful sisterly friendship that brings them so much joy, but their friendship is also fraught with misunderstandings, cultural differences, and confronting class privilege.
- Yet (and at its heart), Mimi and Sakina traverse their differences and try their best to understand each other; it is such a beautiful and hopeful thing. The story also explores friendship, family dynamics, and class differences.
- It’s also about being biracial; Mimi searches for her white father, who is estranged from the family, yet she writes letters to him.
Clues to the Universe by Christina Li
The only thing Rosalind Ling Geraghty loves more than watching NASA launches with her dad is building rockets with him. When he dies unexpectedly, all Ro has left of him is an unfinished model rocket they had been working on together.
Benjamin Burns doesn’t like science, but he can’t get enough of Spacebound, a popular comic book series. When he finds a sketch that suggests that his dad created the comics, he’s thrilled. Too bad his dad walked out years ago, and Benji has no way to contact him.
Though Ro and Benji were only supposed to be science class partners, the pair become unlikely friends: Benji helps Ro finish her rocket, and Ro figures out a way to reunite Benji and his dad. But Benji hesitates, which infuriates Ro. Doesn’t he realize how much Ro wishes she could be in his place?
As the two face bullying, grief, and their own differences, Benji and Ro must try to piece together clues to some of the biggest questions in the universe.
CW: Last year, I was fortunate to interview Christina for last year’s Asian Heritage Month series! And then when I read her book, it shattered my heart – and instantly became a favourite book of 2020. (Read my book review!)
- What I loved about this book is that it thoroughly and tenderly explores grief. The way grief is described – in the little moments and the reminders – was so raw. But it’s also a hopeful story; one that’s gentle in its depictions of grief and guides the reader through a wonderful and emotive story.
- This book is just so… soft and sweet. There are moments of bittersweet, but I just loved how the two characters, who feel immense and insurmountable grief and loss, find belonging, closure, and connection in one another.
- The friendship between these two was such a highlight. There’s a bit of conflict too; though I think the conflict makes Ro and Benji’s friendship stronger, and I loved that the story highlights that.
Dawn Raid by Pauline Vaeluaga Smith
“Imagine this: You’re having an amazing family holiday, one where everyone is there and all 18 of you are squeezed into one house. All of sudden it’s 4 o’clock in the morning and there’s banging and yelling and screaming. The Police are in the house pulling people out of bed …”
Like many 13-year-old girls, Sofia’s main worries are how she can earn enough pocket money to buy the groovy go-go boots that are all the rage, and if she will die of embarrassment giving a speech she has to do for school! It comes as a surprise to Sofia and her family when her big brother, Lenny, talks about protests, overstayers and injustices against Pacific Islanders.
Through her spirited and heartfelt diary entries, we join Sofia as she navigates life in the 1970s and is inspired by the courageous and tireless work of the Polynesian Panthers as they encourage immigrant families across New Zealand to stand up for their rights.
CW: When I was a teenager, New Zealand schools did a poor job at teaching New Zealand history. When I learned about the dawn raids that took part in 1970s, I was horrified – but it also highlighted how important stories can be in sharing histories, particularly ones that have been rendered invisible.
- This powerful book, narrated by a younger voice, portrays the dawn raids – a common event in Tāmaki Makaurau where police raided Pasifika homes in an attempt to find ‘overstayers’. The dawn raids were discriminatory and a racist attack towards Pasifika peoples in New Zealand.
- This story also explores the emergence of the Polynesian Panthers, an university-aged activist group who campaigned and took action against police brutality. Dawn Raids highlights the importance of resistance from a younger Pasifika girl’s lens.
The Last Fallen Star by Graci Kim
Riley Oh can’t wait to see her sister get initiated into the Gom clan, a powerful lineage of Korean healing witches their family has belonged to for generations. Her sister, Hattie, will earn her Gi bracelet and finally be able to cast spells without adult supervision. Although Riley is desperate to follow in her sister’s footsteps when she herself turns thirteen, she’s a saram–a person without magic. Riley was adopted, and despite having memorized every healing spell she’s ever heard, she often feels like the odd one out in her family and the gifted community.
Then Hattie gets an idea: what if the two of them could cast a spell that would allow Riley to share Hattie’s magic? Their sleuthing reveals a promising incantation in the family’s old spell book, and the sisters decide to perform it at Hattie’s initiation ceremony. If it works, no one will ever treat Riley as an outsider again. It’s a perfect plan!
Until it isn’t. When the sisters attempt to violate the laws of the Godrealm, Hattie’s life ends up hanging in the balance, and to save her Riley has to fulfill an impossible task: find the last fallen star. But what even is the star, and how can she find it?
As Riley embarks on her search, she finds herself meeting fantastic creatures and collaborating with her worst enemies. And when she uncovers secrets that challenge everything she has been taught to believe, Riley must decide what it means to be a witch, what it means to be family, and what it really means to belong.
Skye: The Last Fallen Star was the first book I read in 2021, and every time I think about it even today my heart fills with a sense of warmth and joy. This was such a fun middle grade romp through a Korean myth-inspired urban fantasy, friends, and my interview with Graci herself about the world and magic of the book was just as delightful.
- Delving into this magical world of divine goddesses, haetae, and uniquely Korean-inspired magic reminded me of the best parts of my early childhood experience with Percy Jackson: the way magic thrums right underneath our noses in the modern world, how story winds and bends in exciting (and at times, unpredictable!) ways, and how all the characters were so lovable and easy to root for.
- The book reads like a love letter to Korean culture and diaspora belonging, filled to the brim with overwhelming heart.
- If this sounds at all interesting to you, OR if you’re perhaps very invested in Korean pop culture (think: BTS and K-dramas), this is a book you absolutely do not want to miss!
Girl Giant and the Monkey King by Van Hoang
Eleven-year-old Thom Ngho is keeping a secret: she’s strong. Like suuuuper strong. Freakishly strong. And it’s making it impossible for her to fit in at her new middle school.
In a desperate bid to get rid of her super strength, Thom makes a deal with the Monkey King, a powerful deity and legendary trickster she accidentally released from his 500-year prison sentence. Thom agrees to help the Monkey King get back his magical staff if he’ll take away her strength.
Soon Thom is swept up in an ancient and fantastical world in where demons, dragons, and Jade princesses actually exist. But she quickly discovers that magic can’t cure everything, and dealing with the trickster god might be more trouble than it’s worth.
CW: If you love stories with the mighty Sun Wukong in it, then you will absolutely love Girl Giant and the Monkey King! A wonderful story with so much adventure and so much heart.
- Readers get a holistic view of Thom’s life, and her story is heartfelt and feels so real; her relationship with her loving but overbearing mother, her life at school and not fitting in, her new friendship with a mysterious neighbour, and also her journey to get rid of her powers.
- The story explores and grapples with being a diaspora Asian kid in a place where there are no Asians; how alienating and lonely it can feel, and how that alienation can turn into ugliness and rejection towards their heritage.
- Thom also journeys beyond Earth and ventures into Heaven, and I loved Hoang’s depiction of Heaven – it was so much fun!
The Shape of Thunder by Jasmine Warga
Cora hasn’t spoken to her best friend, Quinn, in a year.
Despite living next door to each other, they exist in separate worlds of grief. Cora is still grappling with the death of her beloved sister in a school shooting, and Quinn is carrying the guilt of what her brother did.
On the day of Cora’s twelfth birthday, Quinn leaves a box on her doorstep with a note. She has decided that the only way to fix things is to go back in time to the moment before her brother changed all their lives forever—and stop him.
In spite of herself, Cora wants to believe. And so the two former friends begin working together to open a wormhole in the fabric of the universe. But as they attempt to unravel the mysteries of time travel to save their siblings, they learn that the magic of their friendship may actually be the key to saving themselves.
CW: If you know me, then you will know that I’m a huge, HUGE fan of Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga. The Shape of Thunder that released during May, will likely be another favourite of mine, and I can’t wait to read it. I also interviewed the wonderful Jasmine Warga, where we learned a little bit more about The Shape of Thunder – and increased my excitement for it tenfold.
A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat
All light in Chattana is created by one man — the Governor, who appeared after the Great Fire to bring peace and order to the city. For Pong, who was born in Namwon Prison, the magical lights represent freedom, and he dreams of the day he will be able to walk among them. But when Pong escapes from prison, he realizes that the world outside is no fairer than the one behind bars. The wealthy dine and dance under bright orb light, while the poor toil away in darkness. Worst of all, Pong’s prison tattoo marks him as a fugitive who can never be truly free.
Nok, the prison warden’s perfect daughter, is bent on tracking Pong down and restoring her family’s good name. But as Nok hunts Pong through the alleys and canals of Chattana, she uncovers secrets that make her question the truths she has always held dear.
Skye: I use the phrase “full of heart” to describe a lot of my favorite books, but friends, A Wish in the Dark is a Thai-inspired middle grade fantasy that is absolutely brimming with heart, overflowing with it—so full of adventure and lovable characters that you don’t even realize the story simultaneously discusses really important social topics like privilege, justice systems, and revolutions, all wrapped up in such a hopeful and accessible story for its intended young readers. My interview with Christina about the themes and magic of the book was one of the first interviews I ever did for the Pond, and I will always remember Christina’s warmth, kindness, and genuine passion for kidlit with so much fondness in my heart. (The Southeast Asian rep is excellent, too; never have I seen so many of my favorite tropical fruits included in a single book.)
Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch by Julie Abe
Sometimes all you need is a pinch of magic…
Eva Evergreen is determined to earn the rank of Novice Witch before she turns thirteen years old. If she doesn’t, she’ll lose her magic forever. For most young witches and wizards, it’s a simple enough test:
ONE: Help your town, do good all around.
TWO: Live there for one moon, don’t leave too soon.
THREE: Fly home by broomstick, the easiest of tricks.
The only problem? Eva only has a pinch of magic. She summons heads of cabbage instead of flowers and gets a sunburn instead of calling down rain. And to add insult to injury, whenever she overuses her magic, she falls asleep.
When she lands on the tranquil coastal town of Auteri, the residents expect a powerful witch, not a semi-magical girl. So Eva comes up with a plan: set up a magical repair shop to aid Auteri and prove she’s worthy. She may have more blood than magic, but her “semi-magical fixes” repair the lives of the townspeople in ways they never could have imagined. Only, Eva’s bit of magic may not be enough when the biggest magical storm in history threatens the town she’s grown to love. Eva must conjure up all of the magic, bravery, and cleverness she can muster or Auteri and her dreams of becoming a witch will wash away with the storm.
CW: Love Asian-influenced witches? Or how about a story about a young aspiring witch whose magic sometimes goes awry? Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch is a splendid middle-grade debut (and you can read my review here and my interview with Julie here!) and with the sequel, Eva Evergreen and the Cursed Witch, releasing soon, it’s time to read this magical book.
- The world of this book is wonderfully realised and has a hint of Japanese influence. Readers will delight in how imaginative, charming, and visual the storytelling is. (And if you want to see the places that inspired the world of Eva Evergreen, check out this awesome Pond-cation post where Julie took us on a virtual tour!)
- Eva Evergreen is such a wonderful character and I loved her. She faces many adversaries, doubts herself, and has many vulnerable moments, but I loved how the story embraces the validity of these doubts while also being incredibly empowering and heart-warming.
- Though this story is incredibly wholesome, I was also excited by the ever-present threat of ‘The Culling’, a powerful and magical storm that threatens Eva’s world every year, and how this tied into the overarching story, Eva’s development, and the book’s sequel.
Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim
On the outside, Yumi Chung suffers from #shygirlproblems, a perm-gone-wrong, and kids calling her “Yu-MEAT” because she smells like her family’s Korean barbecue restaurant. On the inside, Yumi is ready for her Netflix stand-up special. Her notebook is filled with mortifying memories that she’s reworked into comedy gold. All she needs is a stage and courage.
Instead of spending the summer studying her favorite YouTube comedians, Yumi is enrolled in test-prep tutoring to qualify for a private school scholarship, which will help in a time of hardship at the restaurant. One day after class, Yumi stumbles on an opportunity that will change her life: a comedy camp for kids taught by one of her favorite YouTube stars. The only problem is that the instructor and all the students think she’s a girl named Kay Nakamura–and Yumi doesn’t correct them.
As this case of mistaken identity unravels, Yumi must decide to stand up and reveal the truth or risk losing her dreams and disappointing everyone she cares about.
CW: If you love the idea of a warm and funny middle-grade book that is genuinely laugh-out-loud, then you will love Stand Up, Yumi Chung! Don’t forget to read the interview that I did with the author, Jessica Kim – now I’m super excited to read anything that Jessica writes.
- Even though it’s aimed at a younger audience, I found myself chuckling and giggling at some of the jokes. This book is just so incredibly warm and charming.
- I loved the family aspects of this book. Yumi’s parents own a Korean BBQ restaurant and, as immigrant parents, put a lot of pressure on Yumi to succeed.
- I loved the core message: how fear of failure, not failure itself, is our greatest obstacle.
Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai
Henry Khoo’s family treats him like a baby. He’s not allowed to go anywhere without his sister/chaperone/bodyguard. His (former) best friend knows to expect his family’s mafia-style interrogation when Henry’s actually allowed to hang out at her house. And he definitely CAN’T take a journey halfway around the world all by himself!
But that’s exactly his plan. After his family’s annual trip to visit his father in Singapore is cancelled, Henry decides he doesn’t want to be cooped up at home with his overprotective family and BFF turned NRFF (Not Really Friend Forever). Plus, he’s hiding a your-life-is-over-if-you’re-caught secret: he’s the creator of an anonymous gossip cartoon, and he’s on the verge of getting caught. Determined to prove his independence and avoid punishment for his crimes, Henry embarks on the greatest adventure everrr. . . hoping it won’t turn into the greatest disaster ever.
CW: I have loved all of Remy Lai’s books, and Fly on the Wall is no exception! If you love a middle-grade novel complete with illustrations, a goofy story that has its heartfelt moments, then I think you’ll love Fly on the Wall. (Here is my review, and also my interview with Remy about Fly on the Wall)!
- Paired with a story written at middle-grade level, this book is filled with Remy’s drawings of Henry and his adventures. The illustrations are so delightful and convey feeling so well.
- The story explores ‘helicopter parenting’ and highlights that different families express love differently — and that being a diaspora kid who is surrounded by these overt expressions of love and doesn’t understand that his family loves him and expresses that differently can be such a difficult thing to grapple.
- It also tackles friendships and change – specifically how Henry’s friendship with his best friend changes. It’s bittersweet, but I think showing how friendships do change with age is important and I am grateful to this book that it depicts that in such an honest and sensitive way.
The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf
I am a dark spirit, the ghost announced grandly. I am your inheritance, your grandmother’s legacy. I am yours to command.
Suraya is delighted when her witch grandmother gifts her a pelesit. She names her ghostly companion Pink, and the two quickly become inseparable.
But Suraya doesn’t know that pelesits have a dark side—and when Pink’s shadows threaten to consume them both, they must find enough light to survivebefore they are both lost to the darkness.
Skye: I’m so sentimental about this book, friends; I think it might actually be magical for yeeting me all the way back to my primary school days, with all the worries and the wide-eyed excitement that come with being on the cusp of your teenage years. I was vividly transported back to my childhood growing up in warm, sticky Malaysia: the frangipani trees, the friendship angst and self-discovery, the early mornings punctuated by the gentle rumble of a school bus as you drift in and out of sleep on the way to school. We’ve talked quite a bit about this book here on the Pond during its release, so be sure to check out CW’s glowing review of the book, and my interview with Hanna about her inspiration and writing process if you want to learn more about it!
Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom by Sangu Mandanna
Kiki Kallira has always been a worrier. Did she lock the front door? Is there a terrible reason her mom is late? Recently her anxiety has been getting out of control, but one thing that has always soothed her is drawing. Kiki’s sketchbook is full of fanciful doodles of the rich Indian myths and legends her mother has told her over the years.
One day, her sketchbook’s calming effect is broken when her mythological characters begin springing to life right out of its pages. Kiki ends up falling into the mystical world she drew, which includes a lot of wonderful discoveries like the band of rebel kids who protect the kingdom, as well as not-so-great ones like the ancient deity bent on total destruction. As the one responsible for creating the evil god, Kiki must overcome her fear and anxiety to save both worlds–the real and the imagined–from his wrath. But how can a girl armed with only a pencil defeat something so powerful?
CW: I have so much love for anything that Sangu Mandanna writes! Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom is no exception, and it is just so utterly delightful. I’m having so much fun reading it at the moment – this is the kind of book that is going to empower and inspire young kids.
- A few pages into the book, and I loved Kiki instantly – and I think a lot of readers out there will too. Immediately, I related to Kiki’s anxiety and catastrophising and how it follows you everywhere.
- I love how the story interweaves art with myth and folklore, fantasy with the reality of our lives, and how the story pulls you into an adventure – and the spirit of the adventure and wonder does not let you go.
- Though this story has action and exciting moments, it’s also a heartfelt and wondrous story about confronting our fears and working through them.
Releases July 7th. Add Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom on Goodreads!
Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay
A coming-of-age story about grief, guilt, and the risks a Filipino-American teenager takes to uncover the truth about his cousin’s murder.
Jay Reguero plans to spend the last semester of his senior year playing video games before heading to the University of Michigan in the fall. But when he discovers that his Filipino cousin Jun was murdered as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs, and no one in the family wants to talk about what happened, Jay travels to the Philippines to find out the real story.
Hoping to uncover more about Jun and the events that led to his death, Jay is forced to reckon with the many sides of his cousin before he can face the whole horrible truth — and the part he played in it.
CW: I read Patron Saints of Nothing two years ago now (you can find my review here!), and it has stayed with me ever since – and if you haven’t read this yet, then I implore you to do so. Challenging though it may be, this book is brilliantly confronting and wholly phenomenal.
- The protagonist, Jay, is incredible. He has had a ‘sheltered’ and privileged upbringing because he was brought up in the US, and this book sensitively but frankly challenges his perspectives – perspectives that the reader may also share. Across the book, Jay grows — and his growth will make you think and reflect.
- I loved that this book highlighted how diverse the Philippines is – now just in food and language, but also in the people, and how at the very core, we are all just people with many sides, trying to do what we think is right or best in the world.
- So many parts of this book broke my heart and made me sob. Ribay masterfully burrows Jay’s grief under your skin – and then helps you heal Jay’s – and your – grief.
The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera
Eight-year-old Kahu, a member of the Maori tribe of Whangara, New Zealand, fights to prove her love, her leadership, and her destiny. Her people claim descent from Kahutia Te Rangi, the legendary “whale rider.” In every generation since Kahutia, a male heir has inherited the title of chief. But now there is no male heir, and the aging chief is desperate to find a successor. Kahu is his only great-grandchild–and Maori tradition has no use for a girl. But when hundreds of whales beach themselves and threaten the future of the Maori tribe, it is Kahu who saves the tribe when she reveals that she has the whale rider’s ancient gift of communicating with whales.
CW: The Whale Rider made waves when I was a child, when the movie adaptation moved the world, and it’s one of our taonga. and I still love this story so much to this day, and I cannot recommend the book enough.
- I loved that this story explores identity in the ebb and flow of a changing world; we find the main character, Kahu, a young Māori wāhine limited by traditional gender roles and Rawiri caught choosing between his identity or living in the big city.
- Ultimately it’s a story about love; love between grandfather and granddaughter, love for tradition and history and culture, and love for one another as a guiding and connecting force.
Turtle Under Ice by Juleah del Rosario
Rowena feels like her family is a frayed string of lights that someone needs to fix with electrical tape. After her mother died a few years ago, she and her sister, Ariana, drifted into their own corners of the world, each figuring out in their own separate ways how to exist in a world in which their mother is no longer alive.
But then Ariana disappears under the cover of night in the middle of a snowstorm, leaving no trace or tracks. When Row wakes up to a world of snow and her sister’s empty bedroom, she is left to piece together the mystery behind where Ariana went and why, realizing along the way that she might be part of the reason Ariana is gone.
CW: This is such an underrated book and I want the whole world to read this gorgeous, heartfelt, yet heartaching story about grief and sisterhood.
- Follows Row and Ariana, two Filipino-Chamarro-American sisters who are still reeling from the loss of their mother six years ago. When Ariana disappears, the story explores both sister’s perspectives and the ways they grapple with grief.
- This book is written in verse, and I loved it. Some of the passages contained so much raw emotion, and the rawness of that emotion has stayed with me since reading it last year.
- I also loved how this story explores sisterhood – how both sisters are looking for something in the wake of an absence they feel keenly – and the irrevocable effect sister relationships can have on our lives.
You Bring the Distant Star Near by Mitali Perkins
Five girls. Three generations. One great American love story.
Ranee, worried that her children are losing their Indian culture; Sonia, wrapped up in a forbidden biracial love affair; Tara, seeking the limelight to hide her true self; Shanti, desperately trying to make peace in the family; Anna, fighting to preserve her Bengali identity.
CW: As Joce can attest in her author interview with Mitali for Asian Pasifika Heritage Month, You Bring the Distant Near is a YA multigenerational masterpiece that focuses on women in each generation of a Bengali family who immigrated to New York from London in the 1970s and follows their story to present day.
- You Bring the Distant Near follows five women across three generations, and boasts gorgeous, full, and complex characters, and the story is wholly character-driven.
- This book also explores and discusses intersectional issues, such as biracial identity, anti-Blackness in Asian communities, and Islamaphobia post 9/11.
A Map to the Sun by Sloane Leong
One summer day, Ren meets Luna at a beachside basketball court and a friendship is born. But when Luna moves to back to Oahu, Ren’s messages to her friend go unanswered.
Years go by. Then Luna returns, hoping to rekindle their friendship. Ren is hesitant. She’s dealing with a lot, including family troubles, dropping grades, and the newly formed women’s basketball team at their high school.
With Ren’s new friends and Luna all on the basketball team, the lines between their lives on and off the court begin to blur. During their first season, this diverse and endearing group of teens are challenged in ways that make them reevaluate just who and how they trust.
CW: I read this effervescent and compelling graphic novel in one sitting – a testament to how good this story was and how it pulled me in immediately with its unapologetic and frank depictions of friendships and the messiness of our lives. (I also wrote a review for this book!)
- This graphic novel is like a ‘slice-of-life’; there isn’t a distinct plot to the story, other than the fact that this book follows their friendship, particularly between the tenuous and electric friendship between Ren, a Black teen, and Luna, a Hawaiian-Chinese teen.
- The art in this book is gorgeous. I was enamoured by Leong’s use of colour to create mood and the gradual gradient across the story.
- A Map to the Sun has a great story and explores some important stuff, but it’s about how teens and people are messy, how friendships can be messy, how the world is unkind to girls who are growing into themselves, and depicts some really vulnerable moments.
Made in Korea by Sarah Suk
There’s nothing Valerie Kwon loves more than making a good sale. Together with her cousin Charlie, they run V&C K-BEAUTY, their school’s most successful student-run enterprise. With each sale, Valerie gets closer to taking her beloved and adventurous halmeoni to her dream city, Paris.
Enter the new kid in class, Wes Jung, who is determined to pursue music after graduation despite his parents’ major disapproval. When his classmates clamor to buy the K-pop branded beauty products his mom gave him to “make new friends,” he sees an opportunity—one that may be the key to help him pay for the music school tuition he knows his parents won’t cover…
What he doesn’t realize, though, is that he is now V&C K-BEAUTY’s biggest competitor.
Stakes are high as Valerie and Wes try to outsell each other, make the most money, and take the throne for the best business in school—all while trying to resist the undeniable spark that’s crackling between them. From hiring spies to all-or-nothing bets, the competition is much more than either of them bargained for.
But one thing is clear: only one Korean business can come out on top.
CW: This YA contemporary has my whole heart; it’s as sweet and satisfying as a Hi-Chew, and I want the whole world to read this, especially if you love a fluffy rivals-to-lovers romance! (Check out my review here and also my really cool interview with the author!)
- Every character was Asian – and they were all complex, fascinating, and engaging characters. I think I loved every single character; they were delightful in their own way.
- The rivals-to-friends-to-lovers romance was so soft, vulnerable, and lovely, and I really enjoyed how the story handled miscommunication.
- Plenty of fluff balanced well with emotional depth. I loved how the story explores identity, complex family dynamics, and the unfortunate costs of pursuing your dreams.
Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean
Izumi Tanaka has never really felt like she fit in—it isn’t easy being Japanese American in her small, mostly white, northern California town. Raised by a single mother, it’s always been Izumi—or Izzy, because “It’s easier this way”—and her mom against the world. But then Izumi discovers a clue to her previously unknown father’s identity…and he’s none other than the Crown Prince of Japan. Which means outspoken, irreverent Izzy is literally a princess.
In a whirlwind, Izumi travels to Japan to meet the father she never knew and discover the country she always dreamed of. But being a princess isn’t all ball gowns and tiaras. There are conniving cousins, a hungry press, a scowling but handsome bodyguard who just might be her soulmate, and thousands of years of tradition and customs to learn practically overnight.
Izumi soon finds herself caught between worlds, and between versions of herself—back home, she was never “American” enough, and in Japan, she must prove she’s “Japanese” enough. Will Izumi crumble under the weight of the crown, or will she live out her fairy tale, happily ever after?
CW: This book made me scream into the pillow with delight so many times that I lost count. Loved The Princess Diaries? (I did too!) Then you’ll love this story, about a Japanese-American teen who finds out that she’s a Japanese princess. (Check out my review, and also the blog tour/fanart that I did for the book!)
- This book is so sweet and silly and is absolutely not to be taken too seriously. This is the sort of book that you curl up with on a rainy day, to feel the sunshine and warmth of first love, self-discovery, and silly shenanigans.
- The family aspect of this book is so sweet. I loved Izumi’s feminist mother, her shy and hesitant father who is really trying to do his best. The parental bonds that Izumi has with both parents is different – but I really enjoyed it.
- The romance. Oh my god, the ROMANCE. The royal/bodyguard romance was just so fluffy and ridiculous and silly. If you love super tropey stuff with no unwanted surprises, you’ll find this really satisfying.
The Other Side of Perfect by Mariko Turk
Alina Keeler was destined to dance, but one terrifying fall shatters her leg–and her dreams of a professional ballet career along with it.
After a summer healing (translation: eating vast amounts of Cool Ranch Doritos and binging ballet videos on YouTube), she is forced to trade her pre-professional dance classes for normal high school, where she reluctantly joins the school musical. However, rehearsals offer more than she expected–namely Jude, her annoyingly attractive cast mate she just might be falling for.
But to move forward, Alina must make peace with her past and face the racism she had grown to accept in the dance industry. She wonders what it means to yearn for ballet–something so beautiful, yet so broken. And as broken as she feels, can she ever open her heart to someone else?
Skye: This book has been one I’ve been anticipating for forever, and I am so very eager to get to read it soon! The premise of an ex-dancer forced to confront the racism within the art form she’s so passionate about with a side of romance sounds precisely like my kind of coming-of-age YA contemporary, and I also really enjoyed reading Joce’s illuminating interview with Mariko about the author’s personal experience in the dance industry, and the inspiration behind her book. I’m definitely excited to pick this one up when I get the chance!
Isle of Blood and Stone by Makiia Lucier
Nineteen-year-old Elias is a royal explorer, a skilled mapmaker, and the new king of del Mar’s oldest friend. Soon he will embark on the adventure of a lifetime, an expedition past the Strait of Cain and into uncharted waters. Nothing stands in his way…until a long-ago tragedy creeps back into the light, threatening all he holds dear.
The people of St. John del Mar have never recovered from the loss of their boy princes, kidnapped eighteen years ago, both presumed dead. But when two maps surface, each bearing the same hidden riddle, troubling questions arise. What really happened to the young heirs? And why do the maps appear to be drawn by Lord Antoni, Elias’s father, who vanished on that same fateful day? With the king’s beautiful cousin by his side—whether he wants her there or not—Elias will race to solve the riddle of the princes. He will have to use his wits and guard his back. Because some truths are better left buried…and an unknown enemy stalks his every turn.
CW: My challenge to you: Read the first few chapters of Isle of Blood and Stone, and if you can pull away from its instantly fascinating intrigue and the wonderful worldbuilding, then I don’t know what to tell you, because I certainly couldn’t! I was instantly intrigued and I wanted to know more!
- What I love about Isle of Blood and Stone is that it’s a compelling YA fantasy, but it’s also a largely character-driven one – with great stakes, wonderful characters, and the banter! So, so good.
- The mystery in this story is so compelling – so if you love a YA fantasy with a bit of a central mystery that keeps you interested and intrigued, then you’ll love this.
Hunted by the Sky by Tanaz Bhethena
Gul has spent her life running. She has a star-shaped birthmark on her arm, and in the kingdom of Ambar, girls with such birthmarks have been disappearing for years. Gul’s mark is what caused her parents’ murder at the hand of King Lohar’s ruthless soldiers and forced her into hiding to protect her own life. So when a group of rebel women called the Sisters of the Golden Lotus rescue her, take her in, and train her in warrior magic, Gul wants only one thing: revenge.
Cavas lives in the tenements, and he’s just about ready to sign his life over to the king’s army. His father is terminally ill, and Cavas will do anything to save him. But sparks fly when he meets a mysterious girl–Gul–in the capital’s bazaar, and as the chemistry between them undeniably grows, he becomes entangled in a mission of vengeance–and discovers a magic he never expected to find.
CW: In the mood for a sweeping YA fantasy? Hunted by the Sky is then a great choice, especially if you love prophecies, warrior women, and stories about vengeance. (I also got the chance to interview Tanaz Bhathena herself this month!)
- This story is inspired by medieval India and it is glorious and rich. I absolutely loved the setting of this book. Hunted by the Sky is perfect if you want a sweeping adventure with a small romance subplot too.
- I loved how tangible the motivations and emotions in this book felt. Gul’s ache for revenge felt so real and I enjoyed following her journey.
- Badass women warriors! (And Tanaz confirms that they were inspired by Gulabi Gang, a real life vigilante-turned-welfare group of women in India!) I enjoyed the subtle discourses of feminism and freedom as well.
The Lady or the Lion by Aamna Qureshi
Once there was a princess forced to choose a fate for her lover-to a future in the arms of a beautiful lady, or to death in the mouth of a lion? But what came first was the fate she would choose for herself.
As crown princess of Marghazar, Durkhanai Miangul will do anything to protect her people and her land. When her grandfather, the Badshah, is blamed for a deadly assault on the summit of neighboring leaders, the tribes call for his head. To assuage cries for war, the Badshah opens Marghazar’s gates to foreigners for the first time in centuries, in a sign of good faith. Enter Ambassador Asfandyar Afridi, a wry foreigner who admits outright that he is a spy. Stubborn, proud, and suspicious of foreigners, Durkhanai does not appreciate that he won’t bow to her every whim and instead talks circles around her.
And yet, she has to make him her ally to expose those truly responsible for the attack as more ambassadors from neighboring tribal districts arrive at court, each one of them with their own agenda and reasons to hide the truth.When a mysterious illness spreads through the village and the imperialists push hard on her borders, Durkhanai must sort through the ever shifting loyalties at court and her growing feelings for Asfandyar. Will she be able to leave the antics of a spoiled princess behind and become what her people need-a queen?
CW: I had the absolute delight of having Aamna Qureshi take all of us on a Pond-cation around Pakistan, where her story was inspired, and now I am really looking forward to reading this book – and I thought I’d share this story with you. (How cool does the story sound!? So cool!)
Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta
We went past praying to deities and started to build them instead…
The shadow of Godolia’s tyrannical rule is spreading, aided by their giant mechanized weapons known as Windups. War and oppression are everyday constants for the people of the Badlands, who live under the thumb of their cruel Godolia overlords.
Eris Shindanai is a Gearbreaker, a brash young rebel who specializes in taking down Windups from the inside. When one of her missions goes awry and she finds herself in a Godolia prison, Eris meets Sona Steelcrest, a cybernetically enhanced Windup pilot. At first Eris sees Sona as her mortal enemy, but Sona has a secret: She has intentionally infiltrated the Windup program to destroy Godolia from within.
As the clock ticks down to their deadliest mission yet, a direct attack to end Godolia’s reign once and for all, Eris and Sona grow closer—as comrades, friends, and perhaps something more…
CW: If you love high-octane stories with mecha aesthetics that, underneath the viciousness and rage, is a tender story about holding onto those whom we love, then you’ll love Gearbreakers. (I had a lot of fun reviewing this book too!)
- Though there’s action, I think this is ultimately a very emotive and character-driven book. The story is about teens and kids who become soldiers to fight a senseless and violent war. It’s heartbreaking, and the way that Zoe explores this – through so much emotion and anger and rage and grief – was so powerful and good.
- I actually loved how identity is explored in this story; how we negotiate identity with agency, and how we lose both in wars.
- The romance between them is unlike anything I’ve read before – it isn’t romantic, per se, or soft, but there is a fierce tenderness and an undeniable connection between them. I loved that.
Releases on June 29th. Add Gearbreakers on Goodreads!
The Wild Ones by Nafiza Azad
Meet the Wild Ones: girls who have been hurt, abandoned, and betrayed all their lives. It all began with Paheli, who was once betrayed by her mother and sold to a man in exchange for a favor. When Paheli escapes, she runs headlong into a boy with stars in his eyes. This boy, as battered as she is, tosses Paheli a box of stars before disappearing.
With the stars, Paheli gains access to the Between, a place of pure magic and mystery. Now, Paheli collects girls like herself and these Wild Ones use their magic to travel the world, helping the hopeless and saving others from the fates they suffered.
Then Paheli and the Wild Ones learn that the boy who gave them the stars, Taraana, is in danger. He’s on the run from powerful forces within the world of magic. But if Taraana is no longer safe and free, neither are the Wild Ones. And that…is a fate the Wild Ones refuse to accept. Ever again.
CW: How gorgeous is the cover for The Wild Ones?! And while I have a lot of cover love for this book, make sure you read the synopsis too – because The Wild Ones sounds enchanting, exciting, and ultimately hopeful. I haven’t read this yet, but I feel like this is a story will be confronting in how it explores trauma and hurt, but also hopeful and empowering in the ways that people can save each other. I’m so looking forward to The Wild Ones – and I hope you are excited with me!
Releases on August 3rd. Add The Wild Ones on Goodreads!
Jade Fire Gold by June C. L. Tan
In an empire on the brink of war…
Ahn is no one, with no past and no family.
Altan is a lost heir, his future stolen away as a child.
When they meet, Altan sees in Ahn a path to reclaiming the throne. Ahn sees a way to finally unlock her past and understand her arcane magical abilities.
But they may have to pay a far deadlier price than either could have imagined.
Skye: The moment I laid eyes on the cover for this book, I fell in love. Having grown up watching period Chinese dramas, wuxia stories have a very special place in my heart, and I can’t tell you how exciting it is to see the genre gaining traction in mainstream publishing spheres. I am so, so excited for this book, and if you haven’t yet checked out our interview with June where we talk about the inspirations behind the book and her writing journey so far, I highly recommend you head on over to read it! June was such a delight to host on the Pond, and I’m definitely very eager to start tearing into my advance copy of this book already.
Releases on October 12th. Add Jade Fire Gold on Goodreads!
Black Water Sister by Zen Cho
Jessamyn Teoh is closeted, broke and moving back to Malaysia, a country she left when she was a toddler. So when Jess starts hearing voices, she chalks it up to stress. But there’s only one voice in her head, and it claims to be the ghost of her estranged grandmother, Ah Ma. In life Ah Ma was a spirit medium, the avatar of a mysterious deity called the Black Water Sister. Now she’s determined to settle a score against a gang boss who has offended the god—and she’s decided Jess is going to help her do it.
Drawn into a world of gods, ghosts, and family secrets, Jess finds that making deals with capricious spirits is a dangerous business. As Jess fights for retribution for Ah Ma, she’ll also need to regain control of her body and destiny. If she fails, the Black Water Sister may finish her off for good.
Skye: In a lot of ways, this is the book of my heart. We talk a lot about the importance of seeing yourself represented in fiction, about the power of stories as windows, mirrors, sliding glass doors—but this was perhaps the first time I truly, acutely felt what it meant to see myself: the daily rhythms of my life as a Malaysian, the messy dark secrets I mull over and over alone at night, the complicated relationships I have with my family, all laid bare in an urban fantasy about angry gods and ghostly grandmas and generational trauma. This has perhaps been the book that has, to-date, rendered me the most vulnerable within its wake, and I say this having read The Song of Achilles. Trust me: this book is worth your time.
Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard
Quiet, thoughtful princess Thanh was sent away as a hostage to the powerful faraway country of Ephteria as a child. Now she’s returned to her mother’s imperial court, haunted not only by memories of her first romance, but by worrying magical echoes of a fire that devastated Ephteria’s royal palace.
Thanh’s new role as a diplomat places her once again in the path of her first love, the powerful and magnetic Eldris of Ephteria, who knows exactly what she wants: romance from Thanh and much more from Thanh’s home. Eldris won’t take no for an answer, on either front. But the fire that burned down one palace is tempting Thanh with the possibility of making her own dangerous decisions.
Can Thanh find the freedom to shape her country’s fate—and her own?
Skye: Aliette de Bodard’s recently-released fantasy novella had already piqued my interest when i first heard about it, but after getting the honor to host a discussion with Aliette herself on the themes of abuse and colonialism in the book, I’m more eager to read it than ever. The post we’ve linked here contains some pretty heavy spoilers for the book though, so trust us on this: a romantic fantasy set in a pre-colonial Vietnamese world featuring sapphic princesses, fire elementals, and magical politics? You’ll definitely want to pick this up.
Island of Shattered Dreams by Chantal T. Spitz, translated by Jean Anderson
Finally in English, Island of Shattered Dreams is the first ever novel by an indigenous Tahitian writer. In a lyrical and immensely moving style, this book combines a family saga and a doomed love story, set against the background of French Polynesia in the period leading up to the first nuclear tests. The text is highly critical of the French government, and as a result its publication in Tahiti was polarising.
CW: After inviting Manuia for Asian Pasifika Heritage Month at the Pond and having her share with us Island of Shattered Dreams, written by an indigenous French-Polynesian author and perhaps the first novel published by a Mā’ohi author. Manuaia described this story as “a knife wrapped in silk” – high-praise that amplifies my excitement to read this book.
Dial A For Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto
1 (accidental) murder
2 thousand wedding guests
3 (maybe) cursed generations
4 meddling Asian aunties to the rescue!
When Meddelin Chan ends up accidentally killing her blind date, her meddlesome mother calls for her even more meddlesome aunties to help get rid of the body. Unfortunately, a dead body proves to be a lot more challenging to dispose of than one might anticipate, especially when it is accidentally shipped in a cake cooler to the over-the-top billionaire wedding Meddy, her Ma, and aunties are working, at an island resort on the California coastline. It’s the biggest job yet for their family wedding business—“Don’t leave your big day to chance, leave it to the Chans!”—and nothing, not even an unsavory corpse, will get in the way of her auntie’s perfect buttercream cake flowers.
But things go from inconvenient to downright torturous when Meddy’s great college love—and biggest heartbreak—makes a surprise appearance amid the wedding chaos. Is it possible to escape murder charges, charm her ex back into her life, and pull off a stunning wedding all in one weekend?
Skye: I mean, read that premise and tell me this book doesn’t represent the actual pinnacle of jokes about nosy Asian aunties. I’ve heard so much about this book already from friends who absolutely adored its humor and hijinks, and all of the wonderful praise has definitely propelled my anticipation levels for its promised shenanigans to dazzling heights. The author is also Southeast Asian herself as well, and it has been so heartening to see the book written so close to home break out in wider reading communities!
Jade City by Fonda Lee
Magical jade—mined, traded, stolen, and killed for—is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. For centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion.
Now the war is over and a new generation of Kauls vies for control of Kekon’s bustling capital city. They care about nothing but protecting their own, cornering the jade market, and defending the districts under their protection. Ancient tradition has little place in this rapidly changing nation.
When a powerful new drug emerges that lets anyone—even foreigners—wield jade, the simmering tension between the Kauls and the rival Ayt family erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones—from their grandest patriarch to the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets—and of Kekon itself.
CW: If there’s any opportunity to recommend Jade City, the first of the Green Bones Saga, then I’ll always take it. (And if you need five reasons beyond this book recommendation to read this book, then here’s my review!) I also had the privilege to interview Fonda Lee (who is one of my favourite authors for this month. If you haven’t read Jade City, get on it now – and you might have enough time to grieve and heal like the rest of us in time for the conclusion, Jade Legacy, releasing this year.
- It’s an amazing story has everything from gripping fights between powerful warriors that draw power from bioenergetic jade, or Green Bones, to the politics of war and family, to the tender moments of love, dedication, and loss.
- What makes this book stand out among other books is the way Lee has crafted her world – it’s rich with history, religion, theology, politics, and cultural values and practices that echo Chinese culture but still remain unique and fresh.
- The themes of Jade City were also engaging and provocative. It explores duty to family, honour, how jade is irrevocably tied to family, power, one’s destiny, individuals in wartime and peace, and also identity.
She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
To possess the Mandate of Heaven, the female monk Zhu will do anything.
“I refuse to be nothing…”
In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…
In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.
When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.
CW: You saw it first, but in my review for She Who Became the Sun, I said that it was a “glorious yet brutal … tour de force that will elevate the historical fantasy genre, a beacon of what all historical imaginings should aspire to be.” And I meant every word. (Also, don’t forget to check out my interview with the author, Shelley Parker-Chan!)
- In this reimagining of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty, this story follows a girl, who is destined for nothingness, who takes her brother’s destiny of greatness, and her ascension and rise to power.
- If you love detailed historical fiction with a queer twist, stories heavy with foreboding and dread, and themes of power, war, betrayal, and revenge – then you’ll love this and She Who Became the Sun will feed you.
- The characters in this are incredible. Realised, fascinating, and complex, I was pulled into their desires and motivations, their ambitions.
Releases on July 22nd. Add She Who Became the Sun on Goodreads!
In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu
The city of Ora uses a complex living network called the Gleaming to surveil its inhabitants and maintain harmony. Anima is one of the cloistered extrasensory humans tasked with watching over Ora’s citizens. Although ær world is restricted to what æ can see and experience through the Gleaming, Anima takes pride and comfort in keeping Ora safe from all harm.
All that changes when a mysterious visitor enters the city carrying a cabinet of curiosities from around the world, with a story attached to each item. As Anima’s world expands beyond the borders of Ora to places—and possibilities—æ never before imagined to exist, æ finds ærself asking a question that throws into doubt ær entire purpose: What good is a city if it can’t protect its people?
CW: In a word, this book is ‘transcedent’ and I love how this novella pushes and blurs the boundaries of speculative fiction. S. Qiouyi Lu is an author to watch out for.
- I loved that this novella had stories within stories; stories that melded biocyberpunk futurism with folklore and mythology, and explored the beauty, the pain, the struggle, and the complexity of life and living.
- This novella delves deeply into the intersections of gender, heritage, and power; it’s also delightfully queer and explores grief, power, oppression, and abuse.
- The stories are thoroughly Asian-inspired and Asian-influenced, and I enjoyed how Lu subverts cultural and historical norms and imbues them with new meaning and perspective.
Releases on August 31st. Add In the Watchful City on Goodreads!
Nothing but Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw
A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company.
It’s the perfect wedding venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends.
But a night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare. For lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.
And she gets lonely down there in the dirt.
Skye: I recently finished this bone-chilling novella just a few nights ago, and friends, let me be the one to tell you that if you love cutting your teeth on Japanese horror, haunted houses, and scary stories infused with queer, modern sensibilities, you are in for a treat.
- The author’s prose is unbelievably decadent. The writing is descriptive, indulgent, and terrifyingly atmospheric without ever being overbearing, and every turn of phrase felt deliberately and meticulously crafted. There was so much perfect imagery that even now I am still reeling a little from the reading experience.
- I also really enjoyed that the book’s fantastical elements were drawn from Japanese folklore! The creepy faceless woman on the cover is called an ohaguro-bettari (who makes a prominent appearance in the book), and there are many references to various yōkai throughout the story.
- In a genre that has a history of villainizing mental illness, it was so refreshing to read a story that acknowledged the reality and lasting effects of mental illness in the everyday lives of people who struggle with it, too.
- Lightning round, this book has: a really messy friendship group who are (mostly) characters of color! a bisexual protagonist! really cool subversions of haunted house/horror tropes, especially with regards to who survives the eerie night… 👀
Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.
When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka’s ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She’s found her final candidate.
But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn’t have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan’s kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul’s worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.
As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.
Skye: This book is going to be a sci-fi release later on this year, and the fact that it has sprung from the pen of a trans Japanese author already has me utterly spilling over with excitement. Add in some Faustian bargains, apparently magical violin playing, and explorations of queer Asian American identity? I might just go and make a deal with the devil MYSELF to be able to read this now.
Releases on September 28th. Add Light from Uncommon Stars on Goodreads!