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16+ Best Books About Asian American Identity

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If you're looking for the best books about Asian American identity, this list is a superb collection by some of the most talented Asian American authors. The list contains books I truly loved and learned something from, and they range all the way from Young Adult to mystery, suspense, comedy, romance, historical fiction and literary fiction.

There truly is something for everyone here, and I strongly encourage you to dive in deep with the best books about Asian American identity because these books really are THAT good, with memorable characters given a platform for their unique voices. Most of these books contain at least some Asian American themes of culture and identity, some more than others. I have no doubt you will find something amazing to read here (the awards and bestselling statuses noted are proof of that!).

Best Asian American Books to Read

Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang

The memoir Beautiful Country is a Read with Jenna book club pick for fans of Educated. It begins when seven-year-old Qian arrives with her family from China in New York City in 1994. In China, her parents were professors, but in America, her family is undocumented, and Qian is faced with poverty, from extreme hunger to lack of affordable medical care.

Since Qian speaks limited English, she feels isolated and like an imposter. She takes refuge in the library, learning English through books. (Book lovers will delight in all the books referenced that shaped her AAPI experience.)

She dreams of becoming an ivy league trained lawyer and, despite the constant fear of deportation, she experiences some quintessential New York experiences, like eating pizza and visiting Rockefeller Center.

It's an important Asian American coming-of-age story about an immigrant family coping with feelings of invisibility, yet still reaching for the light.


Counterfeit by Kristin Chen

Recommended by: Washington Post, PeopleEntertainment Weekly, Time, Cosmopolitan, Today show, Harper’s BazaarVogue, Good Housekeeping, Buzzfeed, Parade, Popsugar, Goodreads, theSkimm, Katie Couric Media, The Millions, Oprah Daily, and more!

Counterfeit is a Reese's book club pick that's a fast-paced caper for fans of Hustlers. Ava is a rule-following Chinese American lawyer who hails from a tradition of reputation and honor, but whose picture-perfect life is actually crumbling behind closed doors.

When she reconnects with her college roommate, they become engaged in a consequential counterfeit scheme that involves importing replicas of luxury handbags.

This book peers behind the curtain of the upscale designer storefronts and the Chinese factories where luxury goods are produced and examines the challenges a modern Chinese American mother faces in striving toward the American Dream.


Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

New York Times bestseller

Crazy Rich Asians is the first in the bestselling trilogy turned movie. When New Yorker Rachel heads to Singapore with her boyfriend Nick, she unexpectedly finds out his home looks like a palace, he grew up riding in private planes, and he is the country’s most eligible bachelor.
 
As his girlfriend, Rachel has a target on her back as she weaves her way through Nick's world of money, invasive relatives, and untrustworthy social climbers. It's an excellent modern rom-com filled with "rich people problems" from the Asian perspective.


Crying in H Mary by Michelle Zauner

  • NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER
  • A Best Book of 2021: Entertainment Weekly, Good Morning America, Wall Street Journal, and more

Crying in H Mart is the emotional memoir of the indie rockstar in the band Japanese Breakfast about growing up Korean American, grieving her mother's death, and forging her own identity.

She openly talks with no reservations about growing up as one of the few Asian American kids at her school and struggling with her mother's high expectations of her. Family is complicated, and she's not afraid to admit any of their flaws, including her own.

As she grew up and her Koreanness began to feel more distant, her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and while coping with her mother's illness and death, she faced her identity with a new appreciation for the culture her mother gave her.

It's an absolutely unforgettable portrait of both grief and self-reflection that leaves nothing off the table and keeps her mother's memory alive in rich anecdotes and life lessons.


Dear Girls by Ali Wong

New York Times bestseller

In Dear Girls, comedian Ali Wong writes letters to her daughters about everything from how to be a working mom in a male-dominated profession, how she met and married their dad and life as an Asian American woman.

While heartfelt, they are also shockingly open and raw. And while hilarious, they also touch upon the AAPI experience in unique ways.


Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

  • International Bestseller
  • Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
  • PEN/Hemingway Award Winner

I'm generally wishy-washy about short stories, but the Interpreter of Maladies was excellent! It's a collection of the emotional journeys of several unique characters in unique, real-life settings, seeking love beyond the barriers of their nations and generations, from India to America and back again. Each story immerses the reader and makes you feel like you know the characters.

It's also actress/writer Mindy Kaling's favorite book!


The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

New York Times bestseller

The Joy Luck Club is the haunting character-driven story of four Asian American mothers, their daughters and their stories.

It started in 1949 when four Chinese women, who were each recent immigrants to San Francisco, began to meet, sharing their collective tragedies and hopes.

Their backstories intertwine in the present in the lives of their four daughters in ways that are both heartfelt and heartbreaking. This book is a tour de force that packs a lot of power, and you won't soon forget it.


The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Amazon Editors' Pick for Best Romance

The Kiss Quotient is a modern rom-com with a unique heroine - a female economist who has Asperberger's. To "practice" dating, she hires a Vietnamese male escort. Things get very physical in this steamy romance, and then perhaps a bit more romantic...


Know My Name by Chanel Miller

  • Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography
  • Instant New York Times bestseller

Know My Name is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. The memoir of the woman who gave up her anonymity as "the Stanford sexual assault victim" to tell her side of the story, Miller makes you question everything you ever thought you knew about sexual assault.

She's a brilliant woman, a talented writer and a courageous survivor. This one's an absolute must-read (and was my favorite nonfiction book of 2019).

For more, read my full review of Know My Name.


Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

  • #New York Times bestseller
  • Named a Best Book of the Year by: People, The Washington Post, Bustle, Esquire, Southern Living, The Daily Beast, GQ, Entertainment Weekly, NPR, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Audible, Goodreads, Library Reads, Book of the Month, PasteKirkus ReviewsSt. Louis Post-Dispatch, and many more.

Little Fires Everywhere is a Reese's book club pick and a suspenseful family drama about race and how it intertwines with different mothers and daughters. In Shaker Heights, Ohio, everything is perfectly planned, especially well-to-do Elena Richardson.

She rents a house to single mother and Black artist Mia Warren, whose daughter Pearl, befriends the Richardson children.

Meanwhile, when friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a highly publicized custody battle ensues, putting Mia, a friend of the baby's biological mother, and Elena on opposing sides. 

Elena becomes determined to uncover Mia’s past -- which yields fiery consequences.

It's a perfectly crafted, complex modern story you will think about for ages to come.

Related post: Little Fires Everywhere Discussion Questions


Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

  • National bestseller
  • Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read

Memoirs of a Geisha was an eye-opening look into a world in which I knew little. In a poor fishing village in 1929, a nine-year-old girl is sold into slavery at a renowned geisha house. She comes of age in ways unlike other young women as she learns the rigorous arts of the geisha: dance and music; wearing a kimono and elaborate makeup; pouring sake to reveal the inner wrist; and competing for men.

While it’s romantic, it's also quite sad and often suspenseful. You’re bound to be swept away and learn something new in this epic book that's also on The Office's Finer Things Club Book List.

Related post: best Memoirs of a Geisha quotes


Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

  • National Bestseller
  • Wnner of the Edgar Award for Best First Novel

Miracle Creek is a page-turner that explores how far a person may go to protect family. In a small town, a group of people is being treated in a hyperbaric chamber to cure a range of conditions from infertility to autism. But when the chamber explodes, two people die, and it’s clear the explosion wasn’t an accident.

A powerful story unfolds as the evidence is gathered and numerous characters are called into question. It's both a suspenseful and meaningful novel beloved by readers.


Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

  • NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2017
  • USA TODAY TOP TEN OF 2017
  • JULY PICK FOR THE PBS NEWSHOUR
  • NEW YORK TIMES BOOK CLUB NOW READ THIS 
  • FINALIST FOR THE 2018 DAYTON LITERARY PEACE PRIZE
  • WINNER OF THE MEDICI BOOK CLUB PRIZE
  • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
  • #1 BOSTON GLOBE BESTSELLER
  • USA TODAY BESTSELLER
  • WALL STREET JOURNAL BESTSELLER
  • WASHINGTON POST BESTSELLER

In Pachinko, in the early 1900s, teenager Sunja, the daughter of a fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger in Korea. But when she discovers she is pregnant, and that he is married, she refuses to be bought. So, she marries a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. This decision sets off a dramatic saga that changes generations.

This is a moving story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty, told from bustling street markets to the halls of Japan's finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld. It's a profound award winner, rich with complex characters and plotlines.


Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

  • An Instant New York Times Bestseller!
  • NAMED A MOST ANTICIPATED BOOK BY New York Times• Time • Marie Claire• Elle• Buzzfeed• Huffington Post• Good Housekeeping • The Week• Goodreads• New York Post • and many more!

Searching for Sylvie Lee is a Read with Jenna book club pick on this list of the best books about Asian American identity that absolutely blew me away! It's both poignant and suspenseful, unraveling the mystery -- and secrets -- of the missing eldest daughter of a Chinese immigrant family.

Sylvie had traveled to the Netherlands for one final visit with her dying grandmother, and then vanished. Sylvie had been raised by a distant relative and didn't rejoin her poor family in America until age 9.

Her naive younger sister Amy is determined to figure out what happened to Sylvie and, in the process, she learns difficult secrets about their family.

It's both a suspenseful page-turner and a gripping family drama at the same time, with culture woven throughout.


To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

To All the Boys I've Loved Before is one of my favorite young adult books and love stories. Charming Asian American teen Lara Jean wrote a stack of love letters for all five boys she’s ever loved. When her precocious younger sister mails them out, all the drama of teenage love ensues.

Lara Jean is the most loveable of characters, drawing upon her Asian culture in dealing with the death of her mother, as she navigates high school relationships.

For more, read my full review of To All the Boys I've Loved Before.


White Ivy by Susie Yang

White Ivy is a Read with Jenna book club pick that really kept me captivated. Ivy is a protagonist you can't trust -- she's a thief and a liar. In Boston, her Asian immigrant grandmother teaches her granddaughter how to pilfer items. And her life seems to be going well when she attracts the attention of Gideon Speyer, the child of a wealthy political family. But when her mother discovers her crimes, she sends Ivy to China.

Years later, Ivy has grown into a better woman, but is haunted by her past. Back in Boston, she reunites with Gideon and quickly becomes immersed in his life of luxury. The past, however, threatens to resurface in this twisty exploration of class and race, and one woman's darkest desires for success.


That concludes this list of the best books about Asian American identity, by some of the most talented modern AAPI authors. I hope you love them as much as I do. This really is a fantastic compilation of books that I'm proud to share.

Shop this full list of the best books about Asian American identity on Amazon.

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