May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month -- Here Are Five Books the Celebrate the AAPI Experience!
Did you know that Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, more often abbreviated to AAPI, takes place every May because of two specific dates? The first, May 7, 1843, mark the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to the United States. And the second date, May 10, 1869, marks the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which would not have been possible without the labor of Chinese immigrants. This annual celebration recognizes the contributions, influences, culture, and history of the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. While the efforts to recognize the achievements of the AAPI community began in the 1970s, it didn't receive national recognition until 1992.
It's 2023, and the publishing industry needs to do better. There are many reasons to make that statement, but let me explain what prompted it this time. First, there needs to be more representation regarding Pacific Island authorship. It was right around this time last year when I started my blogging journey as a book reviewer. As someone new to the field, I chalked my inability to find books by Pacific Islanders up to my lack of experience. Now, in the second year of AAPI month reads, I know it's not a "me" problem -- it's an industry one.
When I couldn't find much last year, I devoted myself to starting earlier in my search to find books from this community. I was downright shocked at how few published books there are by the PI community. And for every physical book I saw, there were even fewer audiobooks. Ebooks were pretty spotty as well, meaning whole segments of the population can't read these books even if they want to because they are inaccessible. I'm used to traditional publishing spectacularly failing marginalized people, but they somehow managed to limbo under that bar. So this is me, appealing to my readership: if you know of any Pacific Islander authors, please send those recs my way!
Five Books to Celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
This is a multigenre list and goes in no particular order.
Dating Dr. Dil
The Tita Rosie's Kitchen Series by Mia P. Manansala
Cozy mysteries and Filipino culture.
If Mia P. Manansala has a million fans, I am one of them. If she has one fan, it's me. If she has zero fans, I'm dead. Is this technically three books? Yes, but in the immortal words of Sheree from RHOA, 'Who gon' check me boo?' These books are so much fun. Manansala effortlessly weaves Filipino culture and recipes into page-turner plots. And yet, for all the enjoyable characters, she manages to tackle difficult issues like mental health, self-worth, and a slew of other heavy topics with grace and relatability.
GET IT NOW
If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha
How to live in a society that was never built to accommodate you.
This book follows four women as they navigate life in South Korea. This novel is almost completely character driven. This is for readers who want to plumb the depth of a character's psyche. Cha presents us with society as an unsolvable paradox, but one that can learn to be navigated at (sometimes great) personal cost. The writing style is the lesser-seen combination of deeply emotional with succinct prose. While the narratives intertwine, each woman's story serves to critique different facets of South Korean culture.
GET IT NOW
Soft Science by Franny Choi
To be or not to be.
Unlike many of my poetry recommendations, Soft Science is not what I would consider accessible. That doesn't mean it isn't worth the read. There is something deeply satisfying in puzzling out the meaning of Choi's words. Themes of transhumanism are a constant throughout the novel. The author seemingly is always seeking the oftentimes unanswerable question of "what is..." to the less clearly defined parts of our existence. This work feels especially timely given the current conversations of ethics and morality surrounding Artificial Intelligence.
GET IT NOW
Dating Dr. Dil by Nisha Sharma
A tale as old as 1590.
Dating Dr. Dil by Nisha Sharma, the first book in the If Shakespeare Was an Auntie series, is fluffy and filthy. Do not be fooled by the cartoon cover: the spice gets adventurous but falls well short of being morally ambiguous. However, this isn't a one-scene-so-skip-it type of reading. The sex is well dispersed throughout, so if that's not your cuppa, you know what do to. But unlike a lot of smut-forward books, the plot and characterizations were very strong. Kareena and Prem will drive you up a wall, but you can't help rooting for them in this modern-day Taming of the Shrew.
GET IT NOW
Year of the Reaper by Makiia Lucier
The Plague and the paranormal.
This fast-paced fantasy is a page-turner that throws you in the deep end and will have you staying up way past your bedtime to see what happens next. Cas is a rarity in main character fantasy - an intriguing male character not riddled with toxic masculinity. The world Lucier builds clearly draws influences from medieval Europe (Black Plague, anyone?) and the Near East but is a rich and vibrant imagining all on its own. And while this is distinctly a fantasy novel, it also has all the elements of a good mystery. A great piece of YA fiction with enough bite and complexity for adult readers as well.
GET IT NOW
Who are your favorite Asian American or Pacific Islander authors?