The best coming-of-age books while Asian

Why am I passionate about this?

The heights of American literature are crowded with coming-of-age tales like Huckleberry Finn and Catcher and the Rye. It’s probably because for us, as Americans, figuring out what it means to be American is something that isn’t as clear as what it means to be from another country with thousands of years of existence behind it. Yet, the stories I was given rarely had people who looked like me (Asian) or lived lives that weren’t solely defined as being “foreign.” These books tell coming-of-age stories in different ways that I wish I had read when I was coming up to broaden my own mind with what was possible.


I wrote...

The All-American

By Joe Milan Jr.,

Book cover of The All-American

What is my book about?

In the woods behind a trailer park in rural Washington, Bucky, a Korean-American high school senior, trains alone with a tire tied to his waist to pursue his singular goal: to play college football. But when the U.S. government deports him, and the South Korean Army conscripts him, he finds himself alone in the country of his birth and caught in the underbelly of a forgotten yet bitter war. To make it out safely and earn his ticket home, Beyonghak must face tough but essential questions about his family legacy and personal identity, at last parsing the difference between the roles he is expected to play and the type of man he wants to become.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Way of the Samurai Musashi Book 1

Joe Milan Jr. Why did I love this book?

Musashi is the first Asian superhero I read.

It’s about a young guy, Takezo” looking for adventure in war and ends up nearly killed, confused, and lost. He finds rebirth in discipline and study with a mysterious monk who starts him on his study of the ways of the sword. He goes on a quest to master the sword and ways of Buddhist truth, a quest where we watch this village kid become “Musashi.”

Its fight scenes are among the best I’ve ever read. And while the feeling of the story being propaganda lurks in the back of the mind (like every Hollywood action film), this was the very first novel that I read cover to cover.

By Eiji Yoshikawa,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Way of the Samurai Musashi Book 1 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Book by Eiji Yoshikawa


Book cover of Severance

Joe Milan Jr. Why did I love this book?

A child of immigrants 20-something professional selling bibles, Severance is about Cadence Chen’s story of completing her early career job during a pandemic before setting off into the dystopian horror of society’s collapse.

Severance is a satire everyone needs to read after our own worldwide pandemic.

It’s funny: the prologue starts the band of survivors that Candence joins learning to start campfires in the wilderness from youtube and how to shoot. It parodies our materialistic culture that treats occupations like destinies and shares the feeling of estrangement many of us children of immigrants feel too.

It’s a maturation story with a different flavor: coming of age out of the material sensibilities that sometimes overwhelm our own good sense.

By Ling Ma,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Severance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Maybe it’s the end of the world, but not for Candace Chen, a millennial, first-generation American and office drone meandering her way into adulthood in Ling Ma’s offbeat, wryly funny, apocalyptic satire, Severance.

"A stunning, audacious book with a fresh take on both office politics and what the apocalypse might bring." ―Michael Schaub, NPR.org

“A satirical spin on the end times-- kind of like The Office meets The Leftovers.” --Estelle Tang, Elle

NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY: NPR * The New Yorker ("Books We Loved") * Elle * Marie Claire * Amazon Editors * The Paris Review…


Book cover of Waylaid

Joe Milan Jr. Why did I love this book?

Waylaid is a bawdy coming-of-age novel about a Chinese American teenage boy working in his parents’ seedy motel – a vibrating bed kind of place – in New Jersey.

He broods about how to lose his virginity. He learns about the adult world from the patrons: Johns, sex workers, the families kicked out of their homes, and the rest of the down and out of American life. I gravitated to Waylaid because it isn’t wholesome yet doesn’t fall into the spirals of toxicity of a Bukowski poem.

It speaks to how sex is used to distract us from the working-class problems all around us, many of which our young are well aware of, but still holds onto this little flame of hope that even in such dark and down-and-out spots, we can find light.

By Ed Lin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Waylaid as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Waylaid is the story of a Chinese American boy who struggles to grow up in the grip of an overcharged sexual environment. With a daily routine that involves renting out rooms to johns and hookers at his parents' sleazy hotel, the narrator loses his grip on concepts of friendship, family and childhood. As he pursues his all-consuming quest to lose his virginity, issues of race, class and sex cripple his sense of self-worth. It is a story told with a Gen-X-style bleak humor that doesn't pander to conventional notions of immigrant narrative. Waylaid doesn't cut a wide swath through Asian…


Book cover of Yellow: Stories

Joe Milan Jr. Why did I love this book?

When I really started writing, I sought out books with punchy prose that connected to some of my experiences.

Don Lee’s Yellow was one of the few books of short stories I found that did that. What’s cool about the title story “Yellow” is that it talks about an Asian guy who learns to box who is known to be sexy, and grapples with issues of courage.

Growing up as a young Asian guy, I was never handed a story about an Asian guy struggling to be a man like all other guys growing up in America. Reading this collection changed that and changed my own perceptions of what stories are possible when you’re coming to age as an Asian in America. 

By Don Lee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Yellow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As the Los Angeles Times noted in its profile of the author, "few writers have mined the [genre of ethnic literature] as shrewdly or transcended its limits quite so stunningly as Don Lee." Harking "back to the timeless concerns of Chekhov: fate, chance, the mystery of the human heart" (Stuart Dybek), these interconnected stories "are utterly contemporary,...but grounded in the depth of beautiful prose and intriguing storylines" (Asian Week). They paint a novelistic portrait of the fictional town of Rosarita Bay, California, and a diverse cast of complex and moving characters. "Nothing short of wonderful...surprising and wild with life" (Robert…


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Book cover of Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

Leslie Tall Manning Author Of Maggie's Dream

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Why am I passionate about this?

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Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

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What is this book about?

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But Marilyn's quest is halted when her daddy, an ex-con she has never met, is chosen by the courts as the new guardian. Caleb…


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