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20 Best Asian American YA Books To Read In 2020

Nadia Ali

Staff Writer

Nadia is an unapologetically British-Muslim writer and blogger at Headscarves and Hardbacks. Since graduating with a BA in English Language and Literature, she now spends far too much time drinking tea when she’s not spilling it, watching documentaries and writing novels she will never finish. Follow her on Twitter: @wordsbynadia.

Flatiron Books, publisher of Anna K by Jenny Lee.

Dazzlingly opulent and emotionally riveting, Anna K: A Love Story is a brilliant reimagining of Leo Tolstoy's timeless love story, Anna Karenina―but above all, it is a novel about the dizzying, glorious, heart-stopping experience of first love and first heartbreak.

Although Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month is in May, there’s nothing stopping you from reading Asian American YA books all year round.

Last year, I took part in a reading challenge where I chose to read as many books by Asian authors as possible and it allowed me to read and discover so many new books by Asian American authors or featuring Asian American protagonists.

If you’re looking to expand your TBR with some Asian American YA novels this year then here’s a round up of 20 books to get you started!

American Panda by Gloria Chao book coverAmerican Panda by Gloria Chao

Seventeen-year-old Mei’s life has already been mapped out by her parents. She’s set to become a doctor (despite falling asleep in her biology classes) and marry a Taiwanese boy, despite having a crush on her not-so-Taiwanese classmate, Darren. When Mei reconnects with her estranged brother, she starts to wonder if keeping these secrets is really worth it. But can she find a way to finally be herself and tell her parents the truth? Gloria Chao is also the author of Our Wayward Fate and the upcoming Rent A Boyfriend.

Like A Love Story by Abdi Nazemian

It’s 1989 and Reza has just moved to New York City with his mother, terrified that someone will find out his secret. Despite being gay, he soon starts dating Judy, whose best friend Art is the only out and proud teen at their school, documenting the AIDS crisis through his photographs. But as Reza grows closer to them both, he struggles to find a way out of his deception that won’t break Judy’s heart and destroy the most meaningful friendships he’s ever known.

Mariam Sharma Hits The Road by Sheba Karim

When a scandalous photo of her friend Ghaz is made public, Mariam comes up with a genius plan to rescue her from her furious parents. Embark on a road trip with their friend Umar and escape New Orleans. So the three friends pile into a car and start driving, making all sorts of pit stops along the way. And though each mile brings them closer to their own truths, they know they can rely on their friendship, and laughter, to get them through it. Sheba Karim is also the author of That Thing We Call A Heart and Skunk Girl.

Love From A to Z by S. K. Ali book coverLove From A to Z by S.K. Ali

After Zayneb is suspended for confronting an Islamophobic teacher, she heads to her aunt’s house is Doha for a much-needed break. While waiting for her flight, her path crosses with Adam. Since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, the same illness that took his mother’s life, he’s been trying to keep it together for his grieving family, locking away his thoughts in writing. Told in alternating journal entries, this is a love story of marvels and oddities and what happens when the two collide. S.K. Ali is also the author of Saints and Misfits.

My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma

Winnie Mehta’s fate is written in the stars. A pundit once predicted that she’d find the love of her life before her 18th birthday. So when she breaks up with her boyfriend Raj, who fits all of the criteria, she begins questioning the truth of the prophecy. Set to take back control of her story, she enlists the help of a fellow Bollywood film geek to pursue her dream of attending film school. Dev is smart and charming and not at all written in her horoscope but Winnie finds herself drawn to him anyway. And soon enough, her perfectly scripted life reaches its climax. The question is: will she get a happy ending?

Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi

Sana Khan is an overachiever: a straight-A student, always determined to win. Her nemesis, Rachel Recht, is an aspiring director, obsessed with making movies. As she’s casting her senior film project, she finds the perfect lead in Sana, who once asked her out and she’s despised ever since. Told in alternative viewpoints, the novel follows these two strong-willed women as they navigate their feelings and fall for each other despite their past, and themselves. Aminah Mae Safi is also the author of Not The Girls You’re Looking For.

The Astonishing Color Of After by Emily X. R. Pan book coverThe Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

When Leigh’s mother dies by suicide, she travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time, determined to also find her mother who she’s certain turned into a bird. Instead, she ends up finding herself: chasing ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents while dealing with her grief and guilt of not being there when her mother was taking her own life.

Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Frank Li is caught between two worlds: that of his parents’ traditional expectations versus his Southern Californian upbringing. So when he goes against his parents’ wishes and falls for a non-Korean girl, he starts fake-dating his classmate Joy, who is in a similar predicament, just to keep them happy. At first, it’s the perfect plan. But it quickly turns into something more, leaving Frank to wonder if he ever really understood love, or himself, at all.

The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan

Seventeen-year-old Rukhsana’s perfectly monitored life is turned upside down when her conservative Muslim parents catch her kissing her girlfriend, Ariana. Without risking anyone in the Bengali community finding out, her parents schedule a trip to Bangladesh where Rukhsana is thrown headfirst into a world of arranged marriages and a culture that’s far detached from her life in Seattle. But finding comfort in her grandmother’s diary and words eventually leads to her finding the courage to fight for her love and stand up for herself, regardless of her parents’ wishes. Sabina Khan is also the author of the upcoming Zara Hossain Is Here.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon book coverWhen Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Dimple Shah is looking forward to attending a summer program for aspiring web developers, mostly to get away from her parents’ obsession with finding her the ‘Ideal Indian Husband’. If only she knew why they were really letting her go. When she meets Rishi Patel, a hopeless romantic who prefers to do things the traditional way, things don’t exactly start off on the right note. But no matter how much their personalities clash, they’re still drawn to each other in the most unexpected ways, just as their parents planned. Sandhya Menon is also the author of There’s Something About Sweetie, From Twinkle, With Love and the upcoming 10 Things I Hate About Pinky.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

The first book in a trilogy, and now hit Netflix romcom, this is the story of Lara Jean Song Covey who writes love letters to all her crushes and hides them in a hat box so they can never be found, or read. That is, until she’s confronted by one of her crushes and realises that her letters have somehow been sent out. But as she comes face to face in embarrassment with each recipient, she soon realises that something good may come out of it after all. Lara Jean’s story continues in P.S. I Still Love You and Always and Forever, Lara Jean.

Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Seventeen-year-old Maya is torn between being the perfect Indian daughter by attending a college close to home, or following her dreams and her heart of attending film school in New York City and pursuing a boy her parents would definitely not approve of. But there are also other matters beyond her control. Like the aftermath of a horrific crime that turns her community upside down and forces her to finally find the strength to determine who she is and where she belongs. Samira Ahmed is also the author of Internment and the upcoming Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know.

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman book coverStarfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Kiko Himura has always struggled with anxiety, preferring to keep her head down to focus on getting into her dream art school that will truly turn her life around. But when her application is rejected and her abusive uncle moves back in with her family, home is the last place she wants to be. So she jumps at the opportunity to tour art schools on the west coast with her childhood friend, Jamie. Free from her toxic home life, she comes to terms with life-changing truths about herself and discovers how to be brave despite her fears. Akemi Dawn Bowman is also the author of Summer Bird Blue.

I Believe In A Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo

Desi Lee is the perfect student on paper, with her sights set on Stanford, but she’s hopeless when it comes to romance. So when Luca Drakos walks into her life, she resorts to getting dating advice from the Korean dramas her father watches in order to pursue him. But what begins as fun and games quickly turns into something serious as she discovers that there’s more to real love than just drama. Maurene Goo is also the author of Somewhere Only We Know and The Way You Make Me Feel.

A Match Made In Mehendi by Nandini Bajpai

Fifteen-year-old Simran comes from a long line of Indian matchmakers. When she accidentally sets up her cousin and a soon-to-be lawyer, her family is thrilled that she has what it takes to get into the business. Except, she doesn’t want anything to do with relationships and family drama. Still, when she ends up creating a matchmaking app and helps connect a wallflower of a girl with the star of the soccer team, she creates the drama: turning the high school hierarchy topsy-turvy and making herself the public enemy.

Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay book coverPatron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

When Jay hears the news that his cousin Jun was murdered as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs in the Philippines, and no one in his family will acknowledge or talk about it, he travels to his home country to find out what really happened. But the more he uncovers about Jun’s death, the more complicated it all seems and the more he’s forced to come to terms with the fact that he might have played a part in it.

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

In this historical YA novel, 17-year-old Jo Kuan is a maid working for one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta by day and the anonymous author of a newspaper advice column by night. But the popularity of ‘Dear Miss Sweetie’ doesn’t come without backlash. As her opponents become more intent on uncovering her secret identity, Jo embarks on a quest of her own to discover the truth about her past and the parents who abandoned her. Stacey Lee is also the author of Under A Painted Sky and Outrun the Moon.

Darius The Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khoram

Darius Kellner is about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, except he can’t speak the language and knows very little about the culture. But at least he gets to know his grandparents for the first time, meets the rest of his family, and finds friendship in Sohrab, the boy next door who makes him feel like he belongs. Sohrab even calls him Darioush, the original Persian version of his name. But when it’s finally time to go home, can Darius find a way to be himself all on his own?

Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen book coverLoveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen

Eighteen-year-old Ever Wong’s parents send her from Ohio to Taiwan to study Mandarin for the summer, among the very over-achieving kids and Yale-bound prodigies that her parents have always wanted her to be. Except, the program is actually an infamous teen meet-market nicknamed Loveboat, where the kids are more into clubbing than culture. Free from her parents’ strict rules for the first time in her life, how far will Ever go to break them?

You Bring The Distant Near by Mitali Perkins

This novel is told in alternating points of view across three generations and five voices of one Indian American family: 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 social-activist granddaughter fighting to preserve Bengali tigers. This sweeping story truly captures the immigrant experience and what it means to be both Indian and American.

For more Asian American YA books, check out Parachutes by Kelly Yang in May and More Than Just A Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood in August. You can also check out this round-up of Asian American YA protagonists.

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