18 Great 2021 YA Books By AAPI Authors to Watch For
As a dedicated reader of YA books by AAPI authors, I was so excited to receive an ARC of Stacey Lee’s forthcoming novel, Luck of the Titanic — a historical fiction account of Chinese young adult passengers on the ill-fated ship — earlier this year. While I was getting lost in the world of gravity-defying acrobatics, sumptuous high fashion, and the unbreakable but sometimes painful bond between twins in Lee’s story, I was reminded again of the range of emotions I feel when reading other AAPI perspectives. I constantly find myself startled with recognition, astonished by differences, and hungry for more. So, I couldn’t wait to research which other YA books by AAPI authors would be coming out this year.
I was pleased to find a plethora of novels we can look forward to reading in 2021, from historical adventures to modern stories to sci-fi worlds and vivid fantasies. If you’re ready to jump in, take a look at these YA books by AAPI authors.
YA Books by AAPI Authors: Historical Fiction
Luck of the Titanic by Stacey Lee
Valora Luck is a talented acrobat who feels stuck in her life in England. When she finds herself with a passenger ticket for the most extravagant ocean liner on the water, she can’t wait to reunite with her twin brother, who’s working on the ship. She settles on a plan to track down the part-owner of the Ringling Brothers Circus, who’s a passenger, so she and her brother can go to New York and work as circus performers. When she’s turned away at the gangway, learning that Chinese people aren’t allowed into America, she manages to stow away and disguise herself. But when she finally finds her twin, she’s surprised to find that he has no interest in living the future she’s dreamed for both of them. But if there’s one thing Valora isn’t willing to do, it’s to give up easily.
Release date: May 4, 2021
The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur
After having gone missing in 1426 Korea, Hwani and her sister are finally found unconscious in a forest, an event that tears their family apart and causes the sisters to become estranged from one another. Years later, Hwani returns home after her father, a detective, has disappeared while investigating the disappearance of 13 other girls in that same forest. When Hwani picks up on her father’s trail, she not only finds her sister, but also uncovers secrets and memories that might just reveal what really happened so many years ago.
Release date: April 20, 2021
A Clash of Steel: A Treasure Island Remix by C.B. Lee
A Clash of Steel, a reimagining of the classic Treasure Island, tells the adventure of two girls, Xiang and Anh, in 1826 China. Xiang lives with her mother, who barely has time for her, and never met her father, who died at sea before she was born. One day, a gold pendant — the only memento she has of her father — is stolen, then returned by a strange girl named Anh, who asks Xiang to help her decode a map that was hidden inside the jewelry. Xiang learns that her father sailed aboard the famous pirate ship, Dragon Fleet, and she and Anh are convinced that the map in the pendant will lead them to a fabled treasure.
A Clash of Steel is the first book in Macmillan’s Remixed Classics series, in which, according to the publisher, “authors from diverse backgrounds take different literary classics from centuries past and reinterpret them through their own unique cultural lens.”
Release date: September 7, 2021
YA Books by AAPI Authors: Contemporary Fiction
Sunny G’s Series of Rash Decisions by Navdeep Dhillon
When Sunny G’s brother dies, he leaves Sunny a notebook. Sunny, who has never felt like he belonged at school, decides the notebook is the perfect place to record the series of rash life decisions he’s ready to make. His first rash decision is to change his appearance by taking off his turban, cutting his hair and shaving his beard. But when he goes to prom with his new look, he discovers that not looking like a Sikh doesn’t help him fit in any better. When he meets Mindii Vang, the two set off on an all-night adventure full of rash decisions that will change his life forever.
Release date: August 10, 2021
Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Book Riot Contributor Adiba Jaigirdar
When Hani Khan comes out as bisexual, her friends at school don’t believe her. So Hani, who is used to being popular and credible, makes up a lie: she tells everyone she’s in a relationship with Ishu Dey. Ishu is an academic overachiever who wants to be elected head girl so she can enhance her college applications. Ishu agrees to pose as Hani’s girlfriend in exchange for Hani’s help with her campaign for head girl. But when they begin developing real feelings for each other, Hani and Ishu learn who their friends and enemies really are.
Release date: May 25, 2021
Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean
As a Japanese American in a mostly white northern California town, Izumi Tanaka knows what it is to feel like an outsider. But life changes in an instant when Izumi finds out her father is the Crown Prince of Japan and she’s swept across the ocean to fulfill her royal duties. As she tries to navigate the actions of untrustworthy relatives and a scandal-hungry press as well as growing feelings for her grouchy bodyguard, Izumi soon discovers that while she wasn’t “American enough” in California, she’s not “Japanese enough” in Japan. All Izumi wants to do is to figure out how to just be herself.
Release date: May 25, 2021
When We Were Infinite by Kelly Loy Gilbert
Beth can’t imagine life without her best friends Grace, Brandon, Sunny, and Jason. One day, when Beth is spending time with Jason, for whom she harbors secret feelings, she witnesses an act of violence in his home. She and her friends vow to protect Jason, but when their devotion to him isn’t enough to save Jason from a life-altering decision, Beth must decide how much of herself she’s willing to give up for her friend.
Release date: March 9, 2021
The Marvelous Mirza Girls by Sheba Karim
When recent high school graduate Noreen loses her aunt Sonia, she decides a gap year trip to New Delhi is just what she needs to begin healing. Soon after she arrives in the city with her mother, Noreen meets Kabir, who introduces her to New Delhi’s exciting culture, from ancient ruins and Sufi saints to Bollywood celebrities and karaoke. But when a family scandal that affects both of them blows up, Noreen and Kabir have something new to discover: what it means to really love someone.
Release date: May 18, 2021
XOXO by Axie Oh
When competitive cellist Jenny meets Jaewoo, who’s visiting Los Angeles from South Korea, she’s so swept off her feet that she abandons her usual practicing hours to spend the evening with him before he flies home. After he leaves, Jenny tries to forget about him, but when she and her mother move to Seoul to take care of her grandmother, Jenny discovers that Jaewoo is a student at the same arts academy she’s attending in Korea — and even more surprising, it turns out her is a member of one of the most famous K-Pop bands in the world, and he’s forbidden from dating anyone. But their feelings toward each other haven’t changed — so how can they have a relationship when both of their professional dreams are at stake?
Release date: July 13, 2021
American Betiya by Anuradha D. Rajurkar
All the things that draw Rani to Oliver are the same things her mother can’t stand: his inked skin, his charm, and his passion for art. Rani is determined to straddle both worlds, so she lies to her parents and starts secretly dating Oliver. But when Oliver’s already troubled home life begins to crumble, he needs more of Rani than she was prepared to give. It’s not until she spends a summer across the world in Pune, India, that she begins to be honest with herself and learn what’s required to gain true independence.
Release date: March 9, 2021
Radha and Jai’s Recipe for Romance by Nisha Sharma
Radha and Jai come into each other’s lives just when they both need something new. Radha, leaving her days of competitive kathak dancing behind her, is desperate for a fresh start. Jai, who’s coming to terms with the fact that his family can’t afford to send him to medical school, just wants to make the most out of high school. Now that they’ve met each other, their fears — and their families’ fears — come into sharp focus, and Radha and Jai begin to understand what they must do to face them.
Release date: July 13, 2021
Made in Korea by Sarah Suk
Valerie Kwon and her cousin Charlie have no competition when it comes to V&C K-BEAUTY, the most successful student-run business at their high school. So Valerie, who’s been saving her earnings for a trip to Paris with her halmeoni (grandmother), is caught off guard when Wes Jung moves to town and begins selling K-pop beauty products to earn money for the music school tuition his parents won’t cover. Valerie and Wes, who are both trying to ignore the romantic spark between them, will stop at nothing — not spies, not all-or-nothing bets — to come out on top.
Release date: May 18, 2021
A Taste for Love by Jennifer Yen
Liza Yang is bold, brave, and a big dreamer. But Liza’s mother, a successful bakery owner, wishes Liza was less stubborn and more traditional — especially when it comes to dating. In an effort to prove the value of her skills to her mother, Liza agrees to help out with the annual junior competition at her mother’s bakery. It turns out all of the contestants are actually Asian American guys — potential boyfriends for Liza, handpicked by her mother. Determined to resist the setup — despite her genuine attraction to one of the contestants — but still anxious to win her mother’s approval, Liza is forced to rethink everything she thought she knew about dating and love.
Release date: February 2, 2021
YA Books by AAPI Authors: Sci-Fi
The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman
On her way to a party with all of her friends, including the boy she’s been in love with for years, recent high school graduate Nami Miyamoto is murdered. After death, she’s sent to Infinity, a place where human consciousness lives after physical bodies die. Infinity is ruled by Ophelia, a virtual assistant popular on Earth, and she forces humans to serve her the same way she’s forced to serve humans on Earth. After discovering Ophelia’s grand plan to eradicate human existence, Nami and a team of rebels are determined to figure out a way to stop her. But before they can, Nami has to understand what it truly means to be human, forcing her to reckon with her own past and future.
Release date: April 6, 2021
The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He
Cee has been living by herself on an abandoned island for three years — and she has no idea how she got here. The only memory she has is of a sister that Cee wants to find. Back at home, her sister Kasey, a STEM prodigy, wants nothing more than to escape the science she knows so well and move to Metropolis, a sanctuary for humans who believe in planetary protection. Unfortunately, Kasey finds that the residents of Metropolis will go to any lengths to find their refuge — including dishonesty. Kasey can help do something about it, but only if she’s willing to turn back to science — even though it’s previously disappointed her and failed the people she loves most.
Release date: May 4, 2021
YA Books by AAPI Authors: Fantasy
Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim
On the day she’s to be crowned princess of Kiata, Shiori’anma slips and reveals a secret she’s been hiding for years: she has forbidden magical powers. On the one hand, the revelation forestalls a wedding to a boy she never wanted to marry, but on the other hand, it catches the attention of her stepmother, Raikama, who’s a powerful sorceress in her own right. Raikama banishes Shiori and turns her brothers into cranes, threatening to kill one of them if Shiori tells anyone. While searching for her brothers, the banished princess discovers a conspiracy to seize the throne and knows she’s the only one who can make things right — but only if she agrees to use the magic she’s been taught to renounce.
Release date: July 6, 2021
Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta
Eris Shindanai lives in the Badlands, which is ruled by the tyrannical Godolia and giant mechanized weapons called Windups. Eris is a Gearbreaker, trained to take Windups down from the inside, but when one of her missions goes wrong, she’s arrested. While in prison, Eris meets Sona Steelcrest, a cybernetically enhanced Windup pilot who at first meeting appears to be Eris’s nemesis. But when Eris learns Sona is on a secret mission to destroy Godolia, the two work together to end the tyranny and are surprised when their relationship begins to blossom into something that starts to feel like more than just comrades and friends.
Release date: June 29, 2021
Sisters of the Snake by Sarena Nanua and Sasha Nanua
Rani and Ria couldn’t lead more different lives. Rani is a princess, yearning to escape and prove herself. Ria lives on the streets and steals to survive. But when the two meet, their identical appearance can’t be denied — so they switch places. But when both of their worlds face ultimate destruction, Rani and Ria must reunite and work together to save everything they’ve ever known.
Release date: June 15, 2021
With so many YA books by AAPI authors with so many unique perspectives, this year will have no shortage of opportunities to dive into stories, from Texas to India to Korea to worlds unknown. Happy literary travels!