If you’re looking for an AAPI reading list, 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 AAPI reading list 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
In the memoir Beautiful Country, seven-year-old Qian arrives in New York City in 1994 balancing both curiosity and fear. In China, her parents were professors, but in America, her family is undocumented and struggling to survive.
Qian is isolated for speaking in limited English and takes refuge in the library, learning the language through books, and eventually experiencing some quintessential New York experiences, like eating pizza and visiting Rockefeller Center.
This is an unforgettable Asian American immigration coming of age story about a family fractured by their invisibility and poverty, but reaching for the light. If you love books as much as I do, you will love learning all the books that shaped Qian’s life as an American.
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 American 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.
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.
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 Asian American 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
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
- #1 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, Paste, Kirkus Reviews, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and many more.
Little Fires Everywhere is a 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.
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, nine-year-old girl is sold into slavery to 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 kimono, elaborate makeup; and pouring sake to reveal the inner wrist; 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.
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 2018DAYTON 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 AAPI reading list 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 my AAPI reading list, 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.
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