May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, a celebration of the contributions and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans to the history, culture and achievements of the United States. You could mark the occasion by shopping one of these AAPI-owned fashion or beauty brands or by donating money or volunteering your time to organizations dedicated to stopping anti-Asian hate. You could also pay homage by reading one of these 14 books by AAPI authors in the past year, ranging from sweet rom-coms to a fascinating explorations of the far-reaching influence of the Korean beauty industry.
14 New (and New-Ish) Books to Read for AAPI Heritage Month
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The narrator of this darkly funny debut novel is a talented musician who abandons her promising future for a job at a high-end beauty and wellness store in New York City after her parents—who fled China in the wake of the Cultural Revolution—are in an accident. The store is known for its kooky products and procedures, from remoras that suck out cheap Botox to eyelash extensions made of spider silk, and it’s there she becomes transfixed by Helen, the niece of the store’s charismatic owner. As the two strike up a friendship that veers into more, the narrator is plied with products that slim her thighs, lighten her hair and the like. But beneath these creams and tinctures lies something sinister in this exploration of consumerism, self-worth, race and identity.
It's 1981 in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, and 16-year-old Sashi wants to become a doctor. But over the next decade, a vicious civil war tears through her home, and her dream spins off course as she sees those around her—including her four beloved brothers—get swept up in the violence. Desperate to help, Sashi agrees to work as a medic at a field hospital for a militant group fighting for a separate homeland for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority. But after the group murders one of her teachers, Sashi begins to question where she stands. Set during the beginning of Sri Lanka's three-decade civil war, Brotherless Night is about a woman's moral journey and the enduring impact of war and the bonds of home.
In this heartwarming debut novel, an Indian American family is turned upside down when the parents split up 36 into their arranged marriage. Recently divorced Suresh and Lata are trying to start new lives after decades together. Suresh is trying to navigate the world of online dating, while Lata is enjoying her newfound independence. Their kids are having a harder time. Priya thinks her father's online pursuits are distasteful and Nikesh is hiding truths about his own relationship. Over the course of three weeks in August, the whole family will uncover one another's secrets, confront the limits of love and loyalty and explore life's second chances.
Ah Boon is born in a fishing village in coastal Singapore in the waning years of British rule. Gentle and introspective, he prefers to spend his days playing with his neighbor, Siok Mei, than fishing. But when he discovers he has the unique ability to locate bountiful, movable islands that no one else can find, he feels a new sense of obligation—something to offer the community and impress the girl he has come to love. But by the time they’re teens, Ah Boon and Siok Mei are caught in the changing tides of the invasion of the Japanese army and the uncertain future of the fishing village. As the nation hurtles toward rebirth, the two friends reckon with the legacy of British colonialism, the sacrifices of love and ever-shifting definition of home.
When Jade arrives in Vietnam for a visit with her estranged father, her goal is to survive five weeks pretending to be a happy family. Pretending shouldn’t be so hard; she's always lied to fit in—to be straight enough, Vietnamese enough, American enough. Her family’s house, however, has other plans. Night after night, Jade wakes up paralyzed. The walls make a humming sound while bugs shed their legs in places they don't belong. She finds strange traces of her ancestors in the gardens they once tended, including a cryptic warning from the ghost of the beautiful bride. No one believes her, but with the help of another girl, Jade is determined to prove that the house will not rest until it destroys them. And maybe this time, she can keep her family together.
Jane Wong (How Not to Be Afraid of Everything) describes her debut memoir as “a rallying cry for radical Asian American women who are restaurant babies and tender daughters and rats like me who want to do more than just survive.” Wong spent much of her childhood at her family’s Chinese American restaurant on the Jersey shore. When her father disappeared into the casinos of Atlantic City, losing the family restaurant and leaving her family destitute, Wong’s mother showed her what it takes to make a life beyond just surviving. Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City is about growing up working class, Wong’s path to forgiving her father, dealing with abusive and toxic men and the beauty of mother-daughter relationships.
Elise Hu is a correspondent and host-at-large for NPR and the host of TED Talks Daily. Her fascinating first book is a sweeping journalistic exploration of the present and future of beauty through the lens of South Korea's booming K-beauty industry. During her four years in Seoul as NPR's bureau chief, the global K-beauty industry quadrupled, and is currently worth $10 billion. But as fun beauty and self-care may seem, Hu pulls back the curtain on the darker questions lurking beneath the surface, asking what are the dangers for a society where a flawless face and body are promoted and possible, and what are the real financial, physical and emotional costs of beauty work in a culture that passes off endless self-improvement as empowerment. Along the way, she comments on gender disparity, consumerism and the undeniable political, economic and social capital of good looks worldwide.
Anthony Chin-Quee is a board-certified otolaryngologist (an ear, nose and throat surgeon). As a self-described "not white, mostly Black and questionably Asian man," Chin-Quee grew up in a family with a background of depression and struggled with relationships, feelings of inadequacy and a fear of failure. To repair that, he began an unflinching examination of what it means to be both a physician and a Black man today, and by sharing stories from his life and career in this debut memoir, set out to learn how the truth can help you to forgive yourself and others as you chart a new way forward.
In this heartfelt collection of essays, journalist Connie Wang (Refinery29) reflects on the adventures she's had traveling with her mother, Qing Li. From going to a Magic Mike strip show in Vegas to taking edibles in Amsterdam, the two try to find their place in the world amid hijinks, capers and lots of growth. Through their adventures Wang also reveals the story of two women learning that once we're comfortable with the feeling of not belonging, we can experience a kind of freedom.
Reeva’s life is starting to sound like the plot of a Bollywood drama in this funny and heartwarming novel from the author of 30 Things I Love About Myself. As it turns out, Reeva’s mother, a semi-famous actress, has been lying to Reeva for decades. The father she thought died 30 years ago had been alive the whole time—and now is actually dead. To make matters worse, his dying wish was for Reeva and her sisters to attend his funeral prayers—with relatives they never knew existed. As Reeva slowly learns more about their father and his life, she starts to uncover the complicated truth of their past...and realizes she needs her family more than she ever could have imagined.
Once a lauded film producer, Sarah Lai is now a lecturer at an obscure college who wants nothing more than to forget her time in Hollywood. But when a journalist reaches out to her to discuss her own experience working with the celebrated film producer Hugo North, Sarah sees it as her last chance to tell her side of the story and maybe even exact belated vengeance. As Sarah reveals the industry's dark secrets, she begins to realize that she has a few sins of her own to confess.
When Chinese American lawyer Ava reconnects with her college roommate, Winnie, a woman from mainland China, Ava finds her nothing like she used to be. Previously shy and awkward, Winnie is now supremely confident and dripping in luxury goods (impossible-to-get orange Birkin included). The secret to her success? Winnie has developed an ingenious counterfeit luxury handbag scheme and now she needs someone with a U.S. passport to help manage her business—someone like Ava. But when their spectacular success is threatened and Winnie vanishes, Ava is left to face the consequences.
Arriving in San Francisco from China’s Yunnan province in 2015, 18-year-old Shelley has three achievables: family, love and fortune. He soon realizes that the path to achieving said achievables is far from simple. He can only stay with his family for two weeks before having to find his own place, his maybe girlfriend has gone radio silent and he’s not making nearly as much money as he thought he would. Despite frequent setbacks, Shelley’s optimism is unwavering, in part because of his belief in the titular “Chinese groove,” an unspoken rule that essentially means that things will work out if you look out for your countrymen. In The Chinese Groove, Ma has written an immigrant’s coming-of-age story that’s a testament to the power of community and persistence—even if nothing goes as planned.
In this exciting debut novel, a chance romantic encounter during a wild night at a Mardi Gras bachelorette party sends strait-laced Serena’s carefully constructed life into chaos. The trip seems to be doomed from the start—the maid of honor is a piece of work, Mardi Gras crowds are unfathomable and those hangovers. Then, out of nowhere, sparks fly with a handsome stranger at a Bourbon Street bar—the last stop of the evening. After their conversation is cut short, Serena is determined to find him, but has few details to go on besides that he works at a tech company and loves Lil Wayne. Nevertheless, she persists, combing Seattle for her New Orleans flame and deciding if the pursuit of real passion is worth it before she destroys the life she always thought she wanted.