If you spend any amount of time on Twitter, you’ve probably encountered videoclips of synchronized performers dancing to K-pop. Or maybe you’ve spotted a preview of a Korean drama on Netflix. But what about novels, you ask? You want to read stories about Korean characters, that feature Korean culture, or draw upon Korean folklore and mythology? Never fear. You have options. These days, there are more and more middle grade and YA books by Korean authors being published.
This is great to see. Growing up, I had a difficult time finding books featuring characters that looked like me. And when I did, it was always about The Asian Experience. Nothing wrong with that, but 1) our experiences are not monolithic; 2) the experience of a Southeast Asian person isn’t exactly the same as that of an East Asian; 3) we’re more than our cultural struggles; and 4) stories about us should reflect that complexity. Today, things have changed. Thankfully.
Middle Grade Novels
Stand Up, Yumi Chung by Jessica Kim
Yumi Chung dreams of becoming a standup comedian, but her immigrant parents just don’t understand. They’d rather she study and get good grades so she can attend a private school. I think a lot of immigrant kids can relate. Our parents came to this country to give us better opportunities. Why would we choose something that’s so unstable? But what would be a novel about an aspiring comedian be without some hijinks? Yumi gets the chance to attend a comedy summer camp…by impersonating another student. Oh no, what could possibly go wrong?
Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee
Fox spirits in space! Sounds like a great premise, right? In this space opera, 13-year-old Min sets off to find her missing brother, who supposedly deserted his post to search for the mystical Dragon Pearl. Sounds sketchy.
Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh
It’s hard being the new kid in town. New school to navigate, new friends to make, new neighborhood to get familiar with. For Harper Raine, she also must contend with a new family home that may be haunted and may possibly be affecting her younger brother. Yikes!
Young Adult Novels
Wicked Fox by Kat Cho
We’ve had fox spirits in space. Now it’s time for fox spirits in modern-day Seoul. Miyoung, the titular fox spirit, kills men to survive, as her kind is wont to do. But when she saves the life of a human boy, she sets off a chain of events that involve a burgeoning forbidden love and an ancient feud.
The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo
If you’ve ever wondered why there’s so much food in books featuring Asian characters by Asian writers, it’s because food is important to us. So you can’t expect YA books by Korean authors not to do the same. Here, impulsive Clara tends not to think before she acts and as a result, she gets into massive trouble after she nearly sets the school on fire. Oops. Her punishment is working her father’s Korean-Brazilian fusion food truck during summer break. What follows is a wonderful contemporary tale of finding yourself, growing up, and learning from your mistakes.
The Silence of Bones by June Hur
Do you not love this cover? So moody, so blue. You know what makes it better? A Joseon-era historical mystery. How awesome is that? Sixteen-year-old Seol works as the assistant to a brilliant inspector. Their latest case involves looking into the death of a noblewoman that may or may not be political motivated. But things take a turn for the worse when the inspector she’s working with is accused of the murder.
Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh
Think Pacific Rim in futuristic South Korea against the backdrop of a never-ending war. After leaving his past as a gang member behind, Jaewon is a rising star at the academy. He’s soon recruited to join the military’s weapons development division. There, he meets Tera, a subject from the government’s super soldier program. He’s assigned to be her partner, but he’s also tasked with spying on her.
The Perfect Escape by Suzanne Park
I think a romantic comedy is the perfect way to end this list, don’t you? Nate needs money: to pay for college and to buy his parents nice things. To earn that money, he can commit academic fraud or…he can enter a zombie escape competition and win. He has a good chance, too. He works at a zombie escape room and the person who suggested the idea is his co-worker, Kate. Sounds like a foolproof plan to me.
Interested in more YA books by Korean authors? You’ll want to check out these YA books about K-Pop.