15 Great Asian Canadian and Asian American YA Books
Looking for Asian Canadian and/or Asian American YA? No matter what genres you’re into—humor, realism, fantasy, history, science fiction, or romance—here are some great #OwnVoices YA books by and about Asian Canadians and Asian Americans just for you!
Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety by Ann Y.K. Choi
Genre: Realism, Coming-of-Age
This is a bittersweet, haunting, sometimes dark coming-of-age story about a Korean-Canadian young woman growing up in Toronto in the 1980s. Mary is a rebellious teen struggling to define herself and her dreams while trying to respect her family, which is caught between two cultures. Come for Choi’s sparkling writing that brings the Toronto Korean community alive, stay to watch Mary make her own luck.
Half World by Hiromi Goto
Half World is a creepy, dark, Buddhist-inspired fantasy a la Neil Gaiman and Howl’s Moving Castle. Unlikely Japanese Canadian teen heroine Melanie Tamaki must leave Vancouver for Half World, a limbo place between our world and the afterlife, to rescue her mother, who’s been kidnapped by the evil Mr. Glueskin. Don’t miss the companion book Darkest Light!
Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier
Genre: Realism, Coming-of-Age
Dimple Lala is one of those hilarious, thoughtful, honest characters you’ll never forget. In this classic YA—the first coming of age novel about a South Asian American teen—Dimple has spent a lot of her life resisting her parents’ Indian traditions, only to enter high school and discover that “everything Indian” is trendy. Then it turns out the Indian guy her parents tried to set her up with—she rejected him on principle—is actually a DJ and might be cool?
American Born Chinese by Gene Yuen Yang
This ground-breaking graphic novel is well-known for a reason: its famous twist, and the way that the three separate-at-first stories come together is nothing short of genius. One story is the traditional Chinese tale of the Monkey King who keeps getting rejected by the gods because he’s a mere monkey; the second is about Jin Wang, a Chinese-American teen who desperately wants to fit in with his white classmates; and the third is about popular white guy Danny’s life being ruined by his Chinese cousin Chin-Kee, the embodiment of every negative Chinese stereotype.
Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee
Genre: Science Fiction, Superheroes
Bisexual Vietnamese-Chinese high schooler Jessica Tran lives in a future where superpowers, self-driving cars, and holographic TVs are normal, but finding a decent internship is still hard. She ends up interning for the town’s worst supervillain, but at least she gets to work with her longtime secret crush Abby and another attractive mysterious person who never seems to be in the same place as Abby…The plot takes a dangerous and cliffhanger turn when Jess discovers a secret plot bigger than the villains and heroes put together.
A Step from Heaven by An Na
Genre: Realism, Coming-of-Age
This poetic and gracefully written story follows Young Ju from the time her family leaves Korea when she’s four years old until she’s ready to go to college in the U.S. Before arriving in the States, Young Ju thought America was some kind of paradise, but as she grows up she realizes more and more that it’s a regular earthly place with some harsh realities.
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
Genre: Romance, Realism
Have you ever wished you could read a YA novel version of a Bollywood romantic comedy? You’re in luck! Dimple Shah is an aspiring computer scientist tired of her mom’s obsession with finding her the perfect Indian husband. Thank goodness her parents have sent her to a summer program for hopeful web developers. Little does she know the guy her parents want to set her up with—hopeless romantic Rishi—is also going to be at this camp…
Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
For a graphic novel that takes on topics such as teen suicide, racism, sexism, depression, being queer in a homophobic environment, and that cruelty particular to teenage girls, Skim is surprisingly fun to read and often downright funny. Kim aka Skim is a Japanese Canadian teen Wiccan dealing with being not cool, fat, sad, and the fact that she just might be falling in love with her quirky, hippie English teacher, Ms. Archer. The spot-on diary format with authentic teen voices and the exquisite drawings combine for a magical book.
Money Boy by Paul Yee
Genre: Realism, Urban
The main character of Money Boy is Ray, a recent teen immigrant to Toronto from China who knows he’s lucky to live in the suburbs in a big house with all the latest gadgets and plenty of time for gaming. He’s struggling a bit at school, still feeling like a fish out of water and working on his English, but things get really bad when his dad finds out he’s been cruising gay websites and he suddenly finds himself on the streets.
Swimming in the Monsoon Sea by Shyam Selvadurai
Genre: Realism, Historical Fiction
Set in the 1980s in Shyam Selvadurai’s native Sri Lanka (he now lives in Canada), this book is essentially about the main character Amrith’s queer sexual awakening. A sub-plot involves a school play of Othello; as you might know, jealousy is a major theme in that Shakespeare play, and it also rears its ugly head in Amrith’s story as he finds himself, along with many local girls, enchanted with his visiting Canadian cousin.
Escape to Gold Mountain: A Graphic History of the Chinese in North America by David H. T. Wong
If you’ve ever been curious about the history of Chinese people in North America, this graphic nonfiction book is exactly what you’re looking for! Wong has used both historical documents and interviews with elders in the Chinese community in Vancouver to create a narrative that is at once personal and general. He uses the fictional Wong family as an anchor to tell the story of immigration beginning in the 1800s into the 21st century.
I Think I Am in Friend-Love with You by Yumi Sakugawa
There’s certainly not enough YA about friendship! But this super adorable and funny graphic book is all about how intense friend-crushes, especially ones that remain one-sided, can be. Japanese American comic-book artist Yumi Sakugawa bares everything in this vulnerable memoir where she recounts all her attempts at friend connections with people who are just so cool she really, really wants to be friends with them.
Rani Patel in Full Effect by Sonia Patel
Rani is a second-generation Indian-American (Gujarati) teen hip-hop artist and A student who looks like she has her life together. But her parents’ deeply unhappy marriage has taken its toll on her, including sexual and emotional abuse. While at first Rani is led to make unhealthy relationship choices that seem like they will unravel her life, she is ultimately given the chance to discover her own strength.
Since You Asked by Maurene Goo
Genre: Realism, Humour
Holly is a 15-year-old rebellious Korean American teen saddled with traditional first-generation immigrant parents. When she submits a funny rant to the school newspaper as a joke, she surprisingly ends up with her own column which gives her space to try to reconcile the Korean and American parts of herself. But speaking her mind in a public forum also results in inevitable criticism and backlash.
It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura
16-year-old Japanese American teen Sana Kiyohara needs to learn to stop lying and hiding from the problems in her life: the fact that she thinks she’s gay and that she knows her dad is having an affair. But it’s not going to be easy. One of the best things about this book is how messy all the characters are and how they’re allowed to make mistakes. Plus, there’s the queer girls of colour in love and complex looks at racism, stereotyping, relationships, and culture.