Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make up one of the most diverse groups in the nation, with roots in more than 40 countries and over 50 ethnic groups. The AAPI community is also among the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the U.S. Yet pop culture sometimes falls flat in reflecting the depth of the Asian American experience (and often neglects smaller communities and ethnicities within the diaspora). With Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month in full swing and in light of recent spikes in anti-Asian hate crimes across the country, now can be as good a time as any to browse titles that explore different facets of AAPI experiences and history, or explore identity through tales of comedy, romance and mystery.
To help you narrow down your choices, we gathered Goodreads data to compile the best fiction books, biographies and memoirs written by AAPI authors, spanning multiple genres and tackling a variety of essential themes, including the struggle to find one’s identity as an Asian American and honoring the ties that bond families together.
10 fiction books by AAPI authors to read in 2022
Based on Goodreads data, we recommend these fiction books based the number of members who reviewed each book, its average rating and how many members added the books to their "want to read" lists.
‘Afterparties’ by Anthony Veasna So
Goodreads: 4.03-star average rating from 6,806 reviews
“Afterparties'' is a collection of short stories that centers on the children of Cambodian-American refugees who carve a new life for themselves in California, all while grappling with race, sexuality, friendship and family. Anthony Veasna So posthumously won the John Leonard Prize for Best First Book for “Afterparties,” which provides a look into the experiences within the queer and immigrant communities, balancing compassion, humor and emotional depth along the way.
‘Arsenic and Adobo’ by Mia P. Manansala
Goodreads: 3.57-star average rating from 41,993 reviews
If you’ve been looking to invest in a new series, this book is the first installment in the to-be-released series and centers around a mystery with its fair share of popular rom-com tropes sprinkled into the mix. The main character, Lila, goes through a rough breakup, attempts to save the family restaurant and deals with a group of matchmaking aunties. But following a confrontation with her food critic ex-boyfriend, he’s found dead — and Lila is the primary suspect.
‘The Cartographers’ by Peng Shepherd
Goodreads: 3.75-star average rating from 11,786 reviews
Following a painful falling out over a cheap-looking map that left her jobless, Nell Young hadn’t spoken or seen her famous cartographer father in years. But when he’s found dead in his office at the New York Public Library, Nell sets out to investigate. Shediscovers the same old map that created the rift between them is incredibly rare and embarks on a dangerous journey to unveil a dark family secret.
‘The Chosen and the Beautiful’ by Nghi Vo
Goodreads: 3.6-star average rating from 9,614 reviews
Nghi Vo’s “The Chosen and the Beautiful” is a retelling of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsy,” but from the point of view of Jordan Baker, who’s recast as a queer, adopted, Vietnamese socialite growing up in the wealthiest and most exclusive circles during the Jazz Age. But as she navigates the spaces of the elite, Jordan finds herself exoticized by her peers.
‘The Heart Principle’ by Helen Hoang
Goodreads: 4.04-star average rating from 64,843 reviews
Anna, a young violinist who went viral on YouTube and subsequently burnt herself out trying to recreate that success, falls in love after a string of (intentional) one-night stands. But when tragedy suddenly hits her family, she embarks on a journey to try and mend herself, her relationship and fight back against the burden of meeting expectations.
‘How High We Go in the Dark’ by Sequoia Nagamatsu
Goodreads: 3.95-star average rating from 9,300 reviews
Set in 2030, “How High We Go in the Dark” begins with an archaeologist who recently lost his daughter — and the unbridling of an ancient virus. The book then takes readers across continents, centuries and celestial bodies, rotating around the resilience of the human spirit and the idea that we’re all (theme park employees, scientists, painters and more) intricately connected in the universe.
‘Light from Uncommon Stars’ by Ryka Aoki
Goodreads: 4.13-star average rating from 7,288 reviews
This unique novel — which combines fantasy, romance and science fiction — follows three women who become connected by both chance and fate. The story’s main character, Shizuka, makes a deal with the devil to escape damnation that requires her to convince seven violin prodigies to trade their souls for success, and Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, is her final contender. But Shizuka later meets Lan, whose kind smile may be powerful enough to break the curse.
‘The School for Good Mothers’ by Jessamine Chan
Goodreads: 3.57-star average rating from 21,174 reviews
In author Jessamine Chan’s debut novel, a woman is suddenly faced with the possibility of losing her daughter as a Big Brother-like institution — led by the state — judges whether or not she’s fit to be a mother. The story explores the expectations of upper-middle class parenting, prejudice against women and the bond between a mother and child.
‘Things We Lost to the Water’ by Eric Nguyen
Goodreads: 3.78-star average rating from 7,873 reviews
After immigrating to New Orleans, a jobless and homeless Vietnamese mother of two young boys struggles to stay connected with her husband in Vietnam. As the woman and her children settle into their new American life over time, she realizes she’ll never see her husband again. The story centers on the search for identity as both a family and as individuals as the boys grow up without their father — and as disaster strikes their new home.
‘To Paradise’ by Hanya Yanagihara
Goodreads: 3.82-star average rating from 13,385 reviews
Following “A Little Life,” which won the 2015 Kirkus Prize in Fiction, Hanya Yanagihara wrote “To Paradise,” which details three different versions of the American experience spanning three centuries. The first begins in an alternate version of the late 1800s where New York is part of the Free States, the second occurs at the height of the AIDS epidemic in New York City following a young Hawaiian man living with his much older, wealthier partner, and the last in 2093 centers around a powerful scientist’s granddaughter who is trying to solve the mystery of her husband’s disappearance. The three sections are interwoven with recurring themes and unites the characters despite taking place in entirely different times.
10 nonfiction books by AAPI authors to read in 2022
Based on Goodreads data, we recommend these non-fiction books based the number of members who reviewed each book, its average rating and how many members added the books to their "want to read" lists.
‘American Seoul’ by Helena Rho
Goodreads: 3.78-star average rating from 869 reviews
After her family immigrated from Korea when she was six years old, Helena Rho fulfilled the expectations of others for decades as a “model minority.” Tired of keeping silent about both professional and personal traumas, Helena chooses to leave her career and break away from a perfectly laid-out path to recover her Korean identity.
‘Beautiful Country’ by Qian Julie Wang
Goodreads: 4.21-star average rating from 19,028 reviews
“Beautiful Country” details Qian Julie Wang’s coming-of-age story as an undocumented child in 1990s New York City. Though her parents were professors in China, her family was considered “illegal” in the U.S., which caused strain, fear and scarcity. The story follows Julie as she and her family look for joy — and strength — in the tiniest details in life.
‘House of Sticks’ by Ly Tran
Goodreads: 4.37-star average rating from 2,260 reviews
Ly Tran is torn between honoring her parents’ Buddhist faith, contributing to her family’s livelihood and the insurmountable pressures of fitting in at school in Queens, New York after immigrating from Vietnam. The memoir follows Ly’s journey to finding her own voice while stuck between two vastly different cultural expectations.
‘Ma and Me: A Memoir’ by Putsata Reang
Goodreads: 4.3-star average rating from 15 reviews
At 11 months old, Putsata Reang survived a dangerous journey from war-torn Cambodia to an American naval base in the Philippines, thanks to her mother’s love and determination. Feeling indebted to her mother for saving her lifem among the other sacrifices a mother typically makes for her child, Put grapples with being the traditionally “good” Cambodian daughter and navigating her personal life as a gay woman.
‘Made in China’ by Anna Qu
Goodreads: 3.87-star average rating from 1,403 reviews
“Made in China” follows a young girl who is forced to work at her family’s sweatshop in Queens, New York. When she calls child services on her mother for treating her as a maid and punishing her for doing her homework at night, her entire life is upended. Twenty years later and estranged from her mother, she requests her report from the Office of Children and Family Services, and notes that key details are wrong. She sets on a path to understand her family’s background in China and her mother’s own story.
‘Rise’ by Jeff Yang, Phil Yu and Philip Wang
Goodreads: 4.46-star average rating from 148 reviews
A guided tour filled with interactive graphics, charts, essays and more, “Rise” details the major shifts and milestones of Asian American pop cultural representations throughout the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s and beyond.
‘Seeing Ghosts’ by Kat Chow
Goodreads: 4.02-star average rating from 1,895 reviews
After her mother unexpectedly passes away from cancer, Kat Chow reflects on how love and grief shape both a family and an individual. She also examines what it means to tell your family’s story — as she describes her extended family’s emigration from China and Hong Kong to Cuba and America — and presents the reader with a reflection on who we are when we face profound loss.
‘Tastes Like War’ by Grace M. Cho
Goodreads: 4.31-star average rating from 1,701 reviews
“Tastes Like War” — part food memoir and part sociocultural deep-dive — focuses on a daughter's experience with a schizophrenic mother and details their changing and complicated relationship while she researches the roots of her mother’s mental illness.
‘What My Bones Know’ by Stephanie Foo
Goodreads: 4.58-star average rating from 1,684 reviews
Stephanie Foo was verbally abused, neglected and eventually abandoned by her parents as a teenager, only to be diagnosed with complex PTSD at 30 years old, which occurs when trauma happens continuously and over the course of years. Upon finding limited resources to help her heal, she independently researches how to reclaim one’s sense of self after trauma through interviews with scientists and psychologists and partaking in innovative therapies.
‘You Can’t Be Serious’ by Kal Penn
Goodreads: 4.22-star average rating from 4,398 reviews
In “You Can’t Be Serious,” Kal Penn — star of the Harold and Kumar franchise — reflects on the toughest and most rewarding aspects of his life that lead him down multiple idiosyncratic paths, from acting and writing to serving the country and advising President Barack Obama.