May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and there's no better time to celebrate and honor some of our favorite AAPI authors. Joining Kelly and me (the resident C&C bookworms) is Thao, one of the most prolific readers we know, who is the type of person to send thoughtful care packages of recommended books, alongside Tate cookies and coffee. Writing this list reminded us of books we've held close after the last page and, as Thao put it, "had the privilege to read." Below are 28 books by AAPI authors across genres, that we hope you find the opportunity to pick up any month:
Content warnings: Some of the recommendations below mention suicide, death of a child, self-harm, terminal illness, and mental illness.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: By the author of Little Fires Everywhere, this book captures how horror can visit the most familiar, seemingly knowable spaces. A Chinese American family living in small-town Ohio is devastated when their daughter Lydia—beautiful, favored Lydia—is found dead in a lake. Their carefully crafted relationships fall apart, in shocking ways. Both suspenseful and heartbreaking, each sentence of this book acts as a building block to a larger, more expansive conclusion. - Thao
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim: Like many of my favorite books, my copy of Angie Kim's Miracle Creek is covered in highlights, drawn over passages I wanted to remember and learn from. The book begins with a trial after an experimental oxygen tank, that may cure symptoms of autism, explodes with two people inside. As the trial unfolds, so do the many peripheral dramas of the parents who frequented the tank with their children, and the prejudices toward the Korean American family who ran it. - Leslie
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong: Ocean Vuong’s debut work of fiction (he is also an accomplished poet) is a different kind of coming-of-age novel. He paints a crisp portrait of a single mother and her son navigating violence and trauma, fraught masculinity, and unexpected tenderness. The writing is extremely purposeful and compact—one would expect no less from a poet—but also bristling with specificity that keeps it very much tied to this moment in American history. - Thao
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara: Possibly my favorite book of all time, Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life took me multiple tries to get into—it follows four friends from college, who are so similar at the start, you have to work hard to unravel who is who. From there, it follows their lives through friendship, addiction, and one man's heartbreakingly dark past. - Leslie
Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li: This painful, incredibly important book was written after the author’s own loss of a child to suicide. In the book, a nameless mother and child talk to one another in an untethered space, somewhere between life and death. They find their way to words they could not have otherwise exchanged, falling into patterns of intimacy as they reveal themselves to one another. - Thao
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu: This book has an incredibly unique format (it's reminiscent of a screenplay), so it was no surprise to me to learn that Charles Yu was one of the writers and story editors on the first season of HBO's Westworld. Yu's book is an engrossing commentary on Asian actors and their relationship with Hollywood–often being stuck in the role of "Generic Asian Man" while working their way towards playing the pinnacle of an Asian actor's career: "Kung Fu Guy." I devoured it in a few short sittings. - Kelly
The Gangster We Are All Looking For by Lê Thị Diễm Thúy: This book, published in 2004, has been described as “ahead of its time,” and it absolutely is. Steeped in magical realism and language, the story shifts back and forth between the narrator’s experiences in Vietnam and America, exploring themes of family, loss, and memory. It’s a haunting portrait of a family split asunder, with only language to repair the rifts. - Thao
Severance by Ling Ma: In the near-future, nearly everyone is dying from Shen Fever, a disease that causes its victims to go about their regular routines like zombies until they decay. It's among the most realistic-feeling apocalypse novels I've read, particularly these days, as the world slowly comes to an end around the oblivious (but not entirely unrecognizable) Millennial protagonist, Candace Chen: "Me, I held down an office job... with the money I made, I bought Shiseido facial exfoliants, Blue Bottle coffee, Uniqlo cashmere." - Leslie
The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo: I loved this novella for its narrative tightness. Told through the perspective of a cleric examining the relics of a dead empress’s home, the story follows a trail of history, bringing an old story alive with stinging prose. The language is ruthlessly brief, yet leaves so much room in the white space for the lushness of buried emotion. — Thao
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: It was no surprise to me to learn that Thao loves this book too. Pachinko is an incredibly well-researched work of historical fiction (it took the author close to 30 years to finish it) about four generations of a Korean family living in Japan from 1910 to 1989. It's an eye-opening, beautiful story about race, survival, duty, shame, love, and family. Like Thao said, "It is an epic, unforgettable book." - Kelly
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen: Viet Thanh Nguyen has such a compelling style, which shines in this novel that is part spy novel, part comedy, part historical fiction. The narrator, a North Vietnamese spy, becomes enmeshed in a South Vietnamese community in America, living a life of duality and compromised sympathies. The narrator is rendered with painstaking complexity, and the story full of nuanced exploration of the allegiances that drive us all. - Thao
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang: This book—part of a trilogy about handsome Vietnamese American cousins—is very steamy, but also depicts a surprisingly sweet story about a woman who hires an escort to teach her the ways of romance. Their transactional partnership becomes something much more as they find their way to an unlikely love story. Blush factor is high with this one. - Thao
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan: Rachel Chu has no idea what she's in for when she heads to Singapore to meet her boyfriend's family. Turns out, his family is among the wealthiest in the world—like private plane, buy-anything, crazy rich. Their relationship is put to the test as she's swept off her feet into an entirely new and unexpected world. It's the definition of a fun, romantic beach read—not so many steamy sex scenes, but plenty of hilarious insights into the lives of the super-rich. - Leslie
Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden: The title alone draws us in, and the writing just does not let us go. This memoir takes readers through the author’s experiences growing up as a biracial, queer woman in Florida. Her world of flashy excess is undercut by hidden trauma, and a sense of deep longing, all captured in a voice that is so sharp, so artful that I can’t help but trust her completely to lead me through this violent and dangerous landscape. - Thao
Know My Name by Chanel Miller: I listened to this memoir on audio and was blown away listening to Chanel tell her story in her own words. After she was sexually assaulted at a college party at Stanford in 2015, Chanel was referred to as "Emily Doe" in the media before the highly publicized case went to trial. This memoir is an incredibly well-written account of everything that happened before, during, and after the assault, and the story of Chanel reclaiming her identity after such a deeply violating act. - Kelly
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: This memoir by the late neurosurgeon Dr. Kalanithi is acutely observed and crafted with grace and wisdom. His measured prose underscores (and contrasts) the devastating questions he considers as he faces a terminal cancer diagnosis, and all it means to leave his wife and daughter at such a young age. - Thao
Dear Girls by Ali Wong: I’ve loved Ali Wong since I first saw her in a Netflix special, very pregnant onstage in a cheetah-print body-con dress, shooting acerbic one-liners like darts. This book is structured as a series of tongue-in-cheek epistles to her daughters about womanhood, working in comedy, dating, and everything in between; call them the #hardtruths that women (particularly Asian American women) wish they’d been told. - Thao
Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi: A short list of things I didn't know about supermodel Padma Lakshmi—a truly incredible woman—before reading her memoir: She was married to Salman Rushdie, suffered from severe endometriosis, grew up between India, New York, and California, and has a unique talent for describing food like her mother's kumquat chutney and her grandmother's yogurt rice. - Leslie
World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil: Poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s first work of nonfiction demonstrates how uniquely moving nature writing can be. (It also earned a list of awards almost as long as this post.) Each essay in the collection describes a different “wonder,” from peacocks to whale sharks, and adeptly ties the author’s personal history with the natural world in her singing prose. - Thao
Exhalation by Ted Chiang: Few people are as talented at building transportive worlds as Ted Chiang, whose short story collection "Exhalation" takes you through gateway that allows you to travel 20 years in the future or 20 years into the past and a button that allows people to travel to parallel universes. Like "Stories of Your Life" (which the movie 'Arrival' is based on), the stories in "Exhalation" all inspire larger philosophical contemplations. - Leslie
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri: These short stories glow with humanity: Each captures a moment of crisis for families navigating their emotions in situations that are just left of normal. One couple finds a way to communicate only through darkness, during a black-out. A woman having an affair with a married man contemplates her decisions while babysitting his nephew. The stories are masterfully wrought, and hold stunning, scene-building details that leave an impression you won’t soon forget. - Thao
The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays by Esmé Weijun Wang: Esmé Weijun Wang’s book of essays is as captivating as it is illuminating. She discusses the general treatment of medical illness, especially its diagnosis, in the medical community and her own experience with schizophrenia. - Thao
Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong: The essays in Minor Feelings challenge stereotypes and identity through the lens of Hong's life as a "model minority," a dangerous myth that functions as a "racial wedge" (as Hong writes, "ignored by whites, unless we’re being used by whites to keep the black man down") and dehumanizes Asian Americans. A Korean American poet, Hong opens up about her own learned self-hatred and a personal identity sculpted by racism, while discovering her individual power. - Leslie
A Different Pond by Bao Phi: From the first page, I fell for this book. The details brushed against my own childhood as a Vietnamese American: I saw the cylindrical body pillows we used at bedtime, the whole peppercorns studded in cold bologna, the fried fish on a platter. On the surface, this is a quiet picture book about a boy who goes on an early-morning fishing trip with his father; but underneath are rippling layers of history and connection. It’s a very big story wrapped in a small one. My daughter asked me to read it multiple times in one sitting; I was very happy to comply. - Thao
A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin: Grace Lin creates a mythic story about Little Star, a young girl who bakes a mooncake with her mother. She can’t resist taking little bites throughout the month, which cleverly demonstrates the phases of the moon as it diminishes. Full of otherworldly charm and sweet details, this reads like a digestible (pun intended) fairytale that also explains something to kids about the natural world. - Thao
Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho: I’ve never heard a description of facial features as beautiful as “eyes that kiss in the corners.” In this book, a young girl begins to understand her difference when she compares herself to her peers, but also claims her own joy in that difference. The language is lyrical, but the metaphors are easy to grasp for little ones. - Thao
Cora Cooks Pancit by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore: This picture book has a quiet cadence, telling the story of a girl who desperately wants to learn how to cook with her mother. Together, they make a traditional Filipino noodle dish called pancit, going through each step together as Cora learns about what the dish means to her family. (The book also includes a bonus pancit recipe!) - Thao
Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas by Natasha Yim: In a funny twist on the classic tale, Yim tells the tale of a curious girl who just can’t stop meddling in her panda neighbors’ home. The illustrations are playful and bright, and my daughter giggled at Goldy Luck’s shenanigans during Chinese New Year, a time when she should have been behaving especially well. - Thao
Need more recommendations? Follow and engage with some of our favorite Asian bookstagrammers who give us a ton of recommendations on what to read all year long:
@bookswithtay: Taylor is a Texan turned New Yorker who Kelly had the absolute pleasure of meeting over Zoom during a happy hour hosted by Sarah of @bookishandblack. Taylor's taste in books is varied in the best way—there's a little something for everyone, especially lovers of contemporary fiction.
@sachireads: Sachi's dog, Yuki, is a major bonus to Sachi's excellent taste in books, concise summaries, and trustworthy recs.
@paigerragerreads: Paige is a reader living on the beautiful island of Maui, so if you're into a side of sandy beaches with your book recommendations, Paige is a must follow. She loved N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth Trilogy as much as we did (she's an especially great follow if you enjoy fantasy and speculative fiction) and often picks books by female writers, which we can obviously get behind!
We recognized in writing this list that we have a lack of Pacific Islander representation—if you have any books by Pacific Islanders you recommend, please share them in our feedback form, so we can add them to the end of this post throughout the day. Below are a few reader recs:
- "I wanted to share my recommendation for a book by a Sri Lankan author about her experience during the 2004 Tsunami - Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala. The book is both haunting and beautiful as it speaks to the loss and aftermath of the tsunami."
- "A trilogy by Celestine Vaite: Frangipani/Breadfruit/Tiare in Bloom—all three books are gorgeous descriptions of life in Tahiti and a mother and daughters relationship. I have read them each multiple times!"
- "Thank you for highlighting some wonderful books in honor of AAPI month! I've read so many on your list and have added many more to my "To Read" list. I appreciate the honesty in the lack of Pacific Islander representation. As a Filipina, I've found it hard to find proper representation in novels, but I know they're out there! I recently read Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala. It was actually a Book of the Month pick! The book follows a young Filipina helping her aunt and grandmother take care of their failing restaurant, only to have her ex boyfriend drop dead after a confrontation. It's actually a lighthearted story with a bit of romance, comedy, and murder mystery. I recommend, would make a great beach read!"
- "I'd highly recommend How to Pronounce Knife, a collection of short stories by Souvankham Thammavongsa. It won the Giller Prize this year, Canada's top literary award, and is a real showstopper. It's one of the best books I've read this year, the first story in the collection was titled after took my breath away. Each story is a snapshot with a particular point of view, often of Laos immigrants, and is unflinching and moving. Highly recommend!"
- "Must read Crying in H Mart [by Michelle Zauner]! I think Leslie especially would love—lots of food descriptions."