14 Must-Read Books by Asian and Pacific Islander Authors in Honor of AAPI Heritage Month
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May is dedicated to Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, during which we recognize and celebrate the AAPI community’s contributions and influences in history, culture, and achievements in the U.S. Want to celebrate with us? Here’s an idea: read books by Asian and Pacific Islander authors to educate yourself and support the AAPI community!
Below, we’ve compiled a list of books you should read for #AAPIHeritageMonth, all of which you can find at a discounted price at ThriftBooks. Join the ReadingRewards Program and pick a free book that’s under $5 for every 500 points you earn. From fiction to poetry, to fantasy to graphic novels, and so much more, start stacking up your books and savings — all while honoring #AAPIHeritageMonth!
Fiction / Short Stories
1. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Price: $17 $15.27
As the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2016, The Sympathizer is a culmination of a spy novel, a love story, and an exploration of extreme politics while taking place in America and Vietnam after the Vietnam War in 1975. Viet Thanh Nguyen centers the novel on an unnamed captain who was born from a French father and a Vietnamese mother. The captain — also a spy for the Viet Cong — is of two minds or a divided self, and through him, readers learn about the war from different perspectives. Despite its serious political themes rooted in communism, revolution, and freedom, The Sympathizer does offer satire and humor in how Americans portray the Vietnam War. It’s the type of book that takes time to read but ends on a note that will leave you rethinking about the war that America lost.
2. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Price: $16.99 $15.23
For an intricate story about familial love, ambition, and sacrifice, Min Jin Lee takes readers on a journey with a Korean family over the course of four generations. Pachinko starts in the early 1900s with Sunja who works at a boarding house in Korea. After getting pregnant with a rich, married man from Japan, Sunja decides that she will not become his mistress. She later meets a kind minister at the boarding house who agrees to marry her and help raise her child; the two of them move to Japan where they face overt discrimination against Koreans for many years. Pachinko is a metaphor for taking a gamble at life, whether through the poor decisions we make or the ambitions that lead us astray and tear us apart from those we love.
Biographies / Memoirs / Nonfiction
3. The Making of Asian America: A History by Erika Lee
Price: $22 $19.39
History is as important as the person or the community that’s telling it. In The Making of Asian America: A History by Erika Lee, Asian Americans’ role in American life are brought to the forefront, revealing what other history books refuse to show. From Asian immigrants’ first steps on new soil to the later generations’ struggle to combat the “model minority myth," the book is infused with complicated yet enrichening facets of Asian American livelihood. Lee is a professor and a historian with a penchant for diving into research via the archives, which makes this book a valuable source of information about Asian American history.
4. Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong
Price: $18 $16.19
A mix of memoir, cultural criticism, and history, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong is a personal essay collection about Hong’s racial identity as a Korean American daughter of immigrants. Her examination of racial consciousness is raw and thought-provoking, often peering into the windows of America’s deeply racist roots and the harmful stereotypes of Asian Americans that continue to prevail in today’s society. Hong’s “minor feelings" reflect the manipulative lies told about her racial identity that contradicts her American reality. Although this book is a personal journey, it’s one that resonates to many in the Asian American community.
Young Adult / Teen Fiction
5. These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong
Price: $19.99 $17.78
A reimagining of Romeo and Juliet, These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong takes place in 1926 in Shanghai where a blood feud between two gangs, the Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers, turns into a murder mystery as members from both sides begin to claw their own throats out. Juliette Cai is a former flapper who returned home from America to live up to the title as the Scarlet Gang’s heir while Roma Montagov bears the weight of the White Flowers’s blood-stained ambitions for power and control over Shanghai. The lovers-turned-enemies have become partners once again in order to solve the horrific killings that have plagued the city and their families. Anyone who’s a sucker for Romeo and Juliet retellings won’t want to miss out on the glitz, glam, and gore of this 1920s Shanghai setting.
6. Warcross by Marie Lu
Price: $11.99 $7.39
For a thrilling sci-fi adventure set in a futuristic society and the virtual realm, Warcross by Marie Lu takes off with Emika Chen, a pro hacker and bounty hunter who’s trying to make a quick buck in order to survive. Warcross is more than just a game — it’s a way of life, and millions of people log on every day to either escape reality or earn some cash. Emika decides to hack into the international Warcross Championships, only to accidentally glitch herself into the game and catch the attention of Hideo Tanaka, the game’s creator. Emika heads to Tokyo where she meets Hideo who proposes that she uncover a security problem while acting as a spy in the game. There’s more to the problem than meets the eye, as Warcross blends the line between game and reality.
Fantasy / Sci-Fi
7. The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
Price: $26.99 $23.15
R.F. Kuang’s debut novel, The Poppy War, is an epic historical military fantasy that’s inspired by the Second Sino-Japanese War — and if you can’t stomach graphic content and dark themes, this one’s not for you. The story follows Rin, a dark-skinned war orphan from the Rooster province who studies for the Keju in order to get into Sinegard, the most elite military school in Nikan. Just when she thought she could escape her servitude, she endures discrimination at Sinegard based on her gender, color, and poverty. But she soon discovers that she has shamanic powers, and while she’s duking it out with her envious classmates, a war is about to ravage the Nikara Empire. Fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender will want to pick this book up.
8. Jade City by Fonda Lee
Price: $16.99 $15.27
The first book in The Green Bone Saga, Jade City by Fonda Lee is an introduction to the island of Kekon where the Kaul family is one of two crime syndicates that controls the island. It’s also the only place where rare magical jade is produced and worn by Green Bone families who were once warriors and protectors of the island from foreign invasion. Now, instead of war, the Kauls are involved in commerce, construction, and the daily maintenance of their districts that are under their protection. But violence erupts among their rivals, throwing the streets into chaos and adding to the flames of a clan war. Jade City promises intergenerational blood feuds, kungfu, merciless politics, and imbued magic.
9. Round is a Mooncake: A Book of Shapes by Roseanne Thong
Condition: Very Good
For babies and toddlers trying to understand the world around them, Round is a Mooncake: A Book of Shapes by Roseanne Thong is an imaginative illustrated book that points out all the round and rectangular shapes that are of Asian origin. The little girl finds round rice bowls, square dim sum and pizza boxes, rectangular Chinese lace, and more. The book has a short glossary that explains the cultural significance of the objects. It’s perfect for anyone of any cultural background to read aloud and along with their little ones who are just slowly discovering the world they live in.
10. A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat
Price: $17.99 $15.09
Condition: Very Good
Set in a Thai-inpsired fantasy world and inspired by Les Miserables, A A Wish in the Dark follows Pong and Nok — a prisoner and a prison warden’s daughter, respectively. The lights in Chattana are created by the Governor, and Pong dreams of seeing and walking among those lights. But after escaping prison, Pong realizes the world beyond bars is just as bleak. Nok seeks to track and capture Pong, but in doing so, she uncovers the truth about Chattana and questions everything she’s ever known and loved. A A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat is for middle-graders looking for a fantasy adventure in countries and cultures both familiar and unfamiliar to them.
11. A Nail the Evening Hangs On by Monica Sok
Price: $16 $14.58
Monica Sok’s debut collection, A Nail the Evening Hangs On, is about her family’s memories — real and imagined — about the Khmer Rouge regime. Her poetry seeks to reclaim the Cambodian narrative, examining the inheritance of genocide and the lasting effects of grief and PTSD. The prose is both eloquent and sharp, each line infused with tenderness that stirs up memories of a distant past yet one that trickles into the present. Even if you’re unfamiliar with Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge regime, you’ll be in awe at Sok’s craft.
12. Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong
Price: $29.99 $19.29
If you’re just stepping into contemporary poetry, Night Sky with Exit Wounds is one you can’t overlook. As his first full-length collection, Ocean Vuong sets out to unravel topics like family, memory, grief, war, and melancholia. With thoughtful and elegant prose, he recalls life at a refugee camp, breathes life into mythological themes, and conveys palpable emotions of a war-torn country with its people trying to flee. Vuong also sprinkles in experimental poems, poking and prodding at the genre in a way that still sticks to its foundations.
Comics / Graphic Novels
13. Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
Price: $9.99 $6.59
Condition: Like New
For steampunk fans who love a story steeped in darkness and violence but with beautiful visuals, Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening is your fix. Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900s Asia, Monstress centers on a teenage girl, Maika Halfwolf, who shares a mysterious psychic link with a powerful monster, all while grappling with war and trauma. The bond she shares with the monster soon becomes the target of both humans and otherworldly beings, putting her in danger at every turn. If you love a good horror fantasy, you’ll soon fall in love with the world both Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda created.
14. The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen
Price: $16.99 $15.38
Weaving real life and fairytales has never been more beautifully illustrated than Trung Le Nguyen’s The Magic Fish. Tien loves to read books, but it’s hard for him to share his thoughts when his parents don’t speak fluent English. Most importantly, he realizes that he’s gay but can’t find the right words or timing to come out to his parents. The Magic Fish tells all sorts of stories through fairytales, but themes of family, love, and identity are the same as in real life. Stories bring everyone together, even if there’s a language barrier, and we can all find our own happy endings some day. The graphic novel is perfect for any age and shares the Vietnamese American experience through a queer lens.