By Valerie Wu
It’s no secret that today’s literary canon is in need of some new voices–specifically, women of color. For girls seeking to find themselves represented in literature, here is a list of must-read books this summer, all by Asian American women.
This funny but poignant debut novel from Los Angeles-based journalist Jade Chang is a fresh new take on what it means to be Asian American, and what it means to belong. In what may seem like just another “rags to riches” story, Chang takes us on a road trip from California to New York with the Wang family. Comedic situations, a stunning cast of characters, and the dream that unites them all makes this a more-than-compelling read.
Set primarily in Japan, A Tale for the Time Being chronicles one young Japanese American girl’s struggle with belonging in her home country. Having lived in America since she was young, sixteen-year-old Nao finds it difficult to conform to the new standards in Japan. Always seeming to live in the past, she finds her name “Nao” to be ironic. However, when she discovers her great grandmother’s diary, she sets off a chain of events that ultimately help her find out more about her grandmother, but herself as well.
Yes, it’s one of the most well-known classics of all time. Yes, it’s a required reading in many schools. That doesn’t stop The Joy Luck Club from being the most vivid depiction of second-generation Chinese American life in San Francisco. Amy Tan narrates the mother-daughter bond between countries and generations so brilliantly that you won’t be able to put the book down. Give it a shot; you won’t regret it.
The Vegetarian was the recipient of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize–as to why, it’s not surprising. The novel focuses on Yeong-hye and her husband, who start off as a fairly ordinary couple. When Yeong-hye starts getting nightmares, however, she becomes increasingly erratic, and gives up meat altogether. Kang brings us into the dark, alluring world of womanhood, and Yeong-hye’s deterioration–both physically and mentally–does not go unnoticed.
The winner of multiple awards, Everything I Never Told You is the tale of a seemingly ordinary Asian American family living in suburban Ohio. When Lydia Lee, the favorite daughter of the family, is murdered, the Lees are thrust into the midst of familial conflict. Ng offers what so many authors struggle to write: a universal narrative.
Yes, The Namesake is another one of those classics, but Lahiri is one writer you won’t ever be able to forget. This stunning novel captures the divisions between transition and translation. The Namesake follows Ashoke and Ashima, two individuals bound together by an arranged marriage, as they move to Cambridge, Massachusetts from their home in Calcutta. As the family struggles to adapt to the hostility of America, the reader empathizes with the family’s efforts to resist the definitions of others in an attempt to define their own selves–as immigrants, as foreigners, but also as humans.
Described by Ann Patchett as “required reading” to understanding a forgotten part of the world we live in, The Leavers by Lisa Ko is crucial to the collection of Asian American stories. Deming Guo is a young boy when his mother–an undocumented immigrant–goes missing. Adopted by two white parents, Deming tries to understand his two worlds: the one where he came from, and the one he lives in. In this journey of self-discovery, the founding editor of Hyphen Magazine does not disappoint.
While A Little Life has also been the recipient of numerous awards including the Kirkus Prize, its merit lies in its depiction of the bonds between individuals. Following the stories of four men and the ties that unite them, Yanagihara crafts a stunning tale of the meaning of love, family, and acceptance.
Pachinko, a national bestseller, is a story of sacrifice and loyalty. Min Jin Lee was initially inspired by ethnic Koreans in Japan, who were historically the victims of discrimination. Following a teenage mother and her son, Pachinko chronicles the four generations of a Korean immigrant family in twentieth-century Japan, and the tests of strength they face along the way.
Intended for all ages, The Year of the Dog offers a unique perspective on the Chinese American experience through a child’s eyes. Pacy Lin, a second-generation daughter of immigrants struggles both with understanding her heritage and getting through adolescence. Grace Lee looks at culture and identity through a necessary lens: in the eyes of youth.