Since the coronavirus pandemic began early last year, news reports and social media feeds have filled with disturbing stories, images and videos of anti-Asian racism and violence. As the country honors Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, it feels more important than ever to highlight some of the unique delights that come with being Asian American.
From family and food to romance and fashion, celebrating Asian American culture can serve as a form of healing when so many people in the community are experiencing high levels of trauma and tragedy. These eight books — spanning rom-coms, young adult, cooking, mystery, memoir and photography — are a celebration of the joys of being Asian American and help offer a more balanced portrayal of our experiences.
'First Comes Like' by Alisha Rai
In the third and final book in Alisha Rai’s "Modern Love" series, “First Comes Like,” Pakastani American beauty influencer Jia Ahmed falls for soap opera star Dev Dixit after he slides into in her DMs. But when she approaches the son of a famed Bollywood family at a Los Angeles event, Jia learns she’s been catfished. After the paparazzi capture them together, Dev agrees to participate in some friendly fake dating to quell the global gossip and impress her opinionated family. As their fans and friends grow more invested in the relationship, Jia and Dev realize their fauxmance just might be the real thing.
'Cook Real Hawai'i' by Sheldon Simeon with Garrett Snyder
Family, culture and the aloha spirit emanate from Sheldon Simeon’s “Cook Real Hawaii,” featuring 100 recipes, appetizing photography and poignant stories that shed light on the Hawai’i that’s often misunderstood on the mainland. The two-time “Top Chef” finalist, a third-generation Filipino American raised on the Big Island, is the proprietor of the famed Hawai’ian restaurants Tin Roof Maui and Lineage. His cookbook, published this spring, features ‘ohana-style dishes such as smoked meat with guava jelly, local-style kalbi, pork belly adobo and malasadas and shows how Native Hawaiians and Korean, Filipino, Chinese and Portuguese immigrant communities influenced the islands’ multiethnic dishes.
'Made in Korea' by Sarah Suk
Out this month, Sarah Suk’s charming debut YA novel, “Made in Korea,” follows two entrepreneurial Korean American teen students who fight the spark between them while running competing K-beauty businesses at their Pacific Northwest high school. Along with her cousin Charlie, HI-CHEW connoisseur Valerie Kwon runs V&C K-BEAUTY with a goal of taking her beloved halmeoni to Paris, while the saxophone-playing new kid Wes Jung sells his mom’s K-pop branded beauty products to help him pay for music school tuition since he knows his parents won’t approve of his plans to pursue the arts — but first love might get in the way.
'The Trouble With Hating You' by Sajni Patel
After realizing her parents’ latest dinner party was an attempt to introduce her to a man they hoped she’d marry, happily single Liya Thakkar runs out the back door smack into would-be suitor Jay Shah in Sajni Patel’s “The Trouble With Hating You.” When a new lawyer is hired to save her company from financial ruin, Liya, a Tex-Mex-loving biochemical engineer with a sordid reputation, is stunned to see Jay again. Once their witty office banter turns to friendship and flirtation, Liya realizes Jay could be the one guy who can truly accept her — nasty rumors and all.
'Arsenic and Adobo' by Mia P. Manansala
Although Mia P. Manansala’s “Arsenic and Adobo,” out this month, begins with a nasty food critic dropping dead after a confrontation with protagonist Lila Macapagal, the cozy mystery is filled with plenty of heart and humor. Now the prime suspect in a murder, Lila must find the real killer while saving her Tita Rosie’s failing restaurant in the process. From Lila’s matchmaking aunties who dole out love and judgement in equal measure to her chubby dachshund, Longganisa, and barista best friend, the fast-paced novel highlights themes of filial piety and friendship and features plenty of Filipino American dishes along the way — recipes included.
'The Properties of Perpetual Light' by Julian Aguon
Part memoir and manifesto, “The Properties of Perpetual Light” by Indigenous human rights lawyer, writer and activist Julian Aguon is a collection of prose and poetry that weaves together stories from his childhood in Guam with blistering political commentary and a call for justice. Published this spring, Aguon’s “love letter to young people” sheds light on climate change, colonization and the U.S. militarization of Guam from a Pacific perspective, but there’s also plenty of joy, including soulful ruminations on love and resilience that convey the stunning beauty of the Pacific island, Aguon’s reverence for his elders and the magic of Micronesia.
'A Pho Love Story' by Loan Le
Loan Le’s YA novel “A Pho Love Story” explores family expectations, food rivalry and first love. High school student and aspiring artist Linh Mai practically works full time at her family’s pho restaurant, while classmate and burgeoning writer Bao Nguyen is his parents’ fifth-favorite employee. Linh and Bao have avoided each other for much of their lives, suspecting the family feud goes much deeper than friendly competition between their pho restaurants in Little Saigon. As the Vietnamese American teens start seeing each other in secret, they wonder if they can find love amid the complicated history between the Mais and Nguyens.
'Chinatown Pretty: Fashion and Wisdom From Chinatown’s Most Stylish Seniors' by Valerie Luu and Andria Lo
You can’t help but smile as you turn the pages of Valerie Luu and Andria Lo’s “Chinatown Pretty: Fashion and Wisdom From Chinatown’s Most Stylish Seniors.” Founded as a blog and Instagram account in 2014, the hardcover book features more than 100 colorful portraits of inspiring pòh pohs and gùng gungs who share philosophical wisdom and life advice from six Chinatown neighborhoods, including Los Angeles, New York City and Oakland, California. In addition to spotlighting the statement-making elder fashions Gen Z often draws inspiration from, “Chinatown Pretty” is a celebration of Chinese American culture, resilience and ability to find joy amid life’s most challenging circumstances.