Growing up, I saw very few books featuring Asian characters or Asian cultures. There was “Night of the Ninjas” from the Magic Tree House series, and Cho Chang in “Harry Potter.” But they never resonated with me.
It is a shame that many children cannot see themselves represented in literature. Even worse, when authors try to incorporate representation, they often resort to stereotypes. This does more harm than good.
Authors from underrepresented groups are remedying this issue with the #OwnVoices movement. This term, coined by Corinna Duyvis, refers to an author from an under-represented group writing about their own experiences.
As an avid reader of Chinese heritage, it is a joy for me to see more representation in the publishing industry.
Here are some acclaimed books either by Chinese authors, that feature Chinese culture or have characters of ethnic Chinese descent.
1 “Spin the Dawn” by Elizabeth Lim
“Spin the Dawn” is the first book of a fantasy duology. People have described it as “Project Runway” meets “Mulan.”
The story follows Maia Tamarin’s journey to become the imperial tailor. To do so, she must disguise herself as a boy.
While keeping her true identity a secret, she must also defeat the other tailors vying for the same illustrious position. There is romance, intrigue and magic.
2 “A Thousand Beginnings and Endings” by various authors, edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman
This book is a collection of 15 Asian myths and legends retold by bestselling and acclaimed authors.
One author people might be familiar with is Melissa de la Cruz, who wrote the “Descendants” series that Disney adapted into a movie.
There are stories about meddling immortals and cooking a lavish feast for spirits. Readers are sure to find a story in this collection that resonates with them.
3 “Descendant of the Crane” by Joan He
After her father’s murder, Princess Hesina of Yan comes into power over an unstable kingdom. Out of desperation, she seeks the help of illegal magic.
A review from Emily May praises the political intrigue, murder mystery elements and moral ambiguity of the story.
4 “These Violent Delights” by Chloe Gong
“These Violent Delights” is also the first book in a duology. It takes place in 1920s Shanghai during a time of political instability.
Juliette Cai and Roma Montagov are ex-star-crossed lovers from rival gangs who team up to fight a contagion and a monster. (It is a “Romeo and Juliet” retelling if you could not tell from their names.)
5 “The Poppy War” by R.F. Kuang
“The Poppy War” is the first in a trilogy. It is an “epic historical military fantasy, inspired by the bloody history of China’s twentieth-century and filled with treachery and magic.”
Much to everyone’s surprise, war orphan Rin passes an empire-wide test and will attend one of the most prestigious military schools. At school, she discovers she possesses mythical powers that can help win the impending war, but possibly at the cost of her humanity.
There are some triggering elements to this book, so please look at the trigger warnings before reading
6 “Days of Distraction” by Alexandra Chang
What does it mean to exist in a society that does not notice or understand you? “Days of Distraction” is about a young woman’s reflection on her identity.
The book explores interracial relationships, identity, self-acceptance, racism and misogyny.
7 “The Astonishing Color of After” by Emily X.R. Pan
The main character Leigh Chen Sanders is half Asian and half white. After her mother’s death, Leigh is convinced her mother has transformed into a bird.
She travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents in hopes of finding her mother. On her journey, she finds herself through “family history, art, grief and love.”
8 “She Who Became the Sun” by Shelley Parker-Chan
“She Who Became the Sun” will be released on July 20, 2021. It is a “bold, queer and lyrical reimagining of the rise of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty.”
The story is about a second daughter who takes on her brother’s name after he passes away and rises to greatness.