The best books written about South Asian young adults

Reenita Malhotra Hora Author Of Operation Mom: My Plan to Get My Mom a Life... and a Man
By Reenita Malhotra Hora

Who am I?

I have a passion for this topic because I too am a South Asian author. I read these books to stay informed about the latest ideas shaping our understanding of the South Asian young adult, both within and outside of the geographical boundaries of South Asia. I want to see more stories out there with South Asian themes, characters, settings— contemporary stories in particular. I’d like to see South Asians in ordinary life and not stereotypical situations like The Indian Wedding. We have so many stories to tell! I hope you enjoy the books on this list as much as I have!


I wrote...

Operation Mom: My Plan to Get My Mom a Life... and a Man

By Reenita Malhotra Hora,

Book cover of Operation Mom: My Plan to Get My Mom a Life... and a Man

What is my book about?

When you try to set your mom's life right, be prepared to have your own life turned upside down.

Seventeen-year-old Ila Isham has serious problems. There's the angst of being an Ali Zafar groupie. Then there are the extra layers of fat she owes to her part-Punjabi roots. Add to this, parents who have separated; an enthusiastic best friend whose idea of variety is dating three guys at the same time; and her mom's best friend, Aunty Maleeka, whose good intentions and savvy ways throw up more problems than solutions—Ila's got her hands quite full. When her mother flips out over her plans to stalk Ali Zafar, Ila decides she has had enough and sets out to create a few distractions to keep her mom busy. 

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

American Betiya

By Anuradha D. Rajurkar,

Book cover of American Betiya

Why this book?

Much as the young adult phase of life is defined by establishing your unique identity, separate from that derived by your school, community, or family, for South Asians this is always a dilemma. South Asians are brought up with very strict parental controls, even though they might want to break away, at a psychological level, they struggle with the idea of sub-consciously pleasing their parents because their own identity is so intrinsically linked to that of their parents. Anuradha explores these very bold, disturbing, and realistic themes that send her protagonist, Rani through an inner journey of emotional turmoil.

American Betiya

By Anuradha D. Rajurkar,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked American Betiya as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A luminous story of a young artist grappling with first love, family boundaries and the complications of a cross-cultural relationship. Perfect for fans of Sandhya Menon, Erika Sanchez and Jandy Nelson.

Praise for American Betiya
A Bank Street College of Education Best Book of 2022
A YALSA Best Best Fiction for Young Adults
A Cosmopolitan Best 100 Books of All Time
A Book Riot best YA Book of 2021
A South Asia Book Award 2022 honoree
A Children's Cooperative 2022 Best Book of the Year
A 2022 Nerdy Book Club Best Novel Award Winner

Rani Kelkar has never lied to…


Circa

By Devi S. Laskar,

Book cover of Circa

Why this book?

Even though today's South Asian families are extremely progressive when it comes to issues relating to their daughters, this was not always the case. Up until very recently, the choice between education and marriage was a very real one for a South Asian young woman. Devi captures this issue beautifully in her story which is set in the 80s. Devi captures this beautifully in the story of her protagonist, Heera, whose experience presses up against the expectations not only of her family but of what it means to be a brown woman in America in the 80s. 

Circa

By Devi S. Laskar,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For fans of The Burning Girl by Claire Messud and Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi, a stunning, gut-punch of a novel that follows a young Indian American woman who, in the wake of tragedy, must navigate her family's expectations as she grapples with a complicated love and loss.

On the cusp of her eighteenth birthday, Heera and her best friends, siblings Marie and Marco, tease the fun out of life in Raleigh, North Carolina, with acts of rebellion and delinquency. They paint the town’s water towers with red anarchy symbols and hang out at the local bus station to pickpocket…


Born Confused

By Tanuja Desai Hidier,

Book cover of Born Confused

Why this book?

Indians born in the USA are all clubbed under the euphemism, “ABCD.” In other words, American Born Confused Desi. Desi loosely translates as Indian native. There is some truth to this as the question of identity hits each of us when we enter young adulthood. Ethnicity is a huge part of this, and for Indian Americans it is a double whammy—they are so different from their peers born and raised in India, yet so different to their American peers too. I love how Tanuja addresses these challenges in her story.

Born Confused

By Tanuja Desai Hidier,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Tanuja Desai Hidier's fantastically acclaimed cross-cultural debut comes to PUSH!

Dimple Lala doesn't know what to think. Her parents are from India, and she's spent her whole life resisting their traditions. Then suddenly she gets to high school and everything Indian is trendy. To make matters worse, her parents arrange for her to meet a "suitable boy." Of course it doesn't go well -- until Dimple goes to a club and finds him spinning a magical web . Suddenly the suitable boy is suitable because of his sheer unsuitability. Complications ensue. This is a funny, thoughtful story about finding your…


Malgudi Days

By R. K. Narayan,

Book cover of Malgudi Days

Why this book?

It is hard to say whether the stories of Malgudi Days are for children or adults. R.K. Narayan, the pioneer of early Indian literature in English, has written a series of delightful books based upon a fictional village called Malgudi. This first one is a collection containing 32 short stories, a series of lovable characters. I especially love how he portrays the teen angst of characters like Iswaren, Ramu, and Sambu whose lives determined by passing exams, are so far from the lives of South Asian teens in the West. Unlike today’s stories with pacing and riveting plots, this one is a lesson in slowing down to take a deep and close examination of Indian rural life, particularly for these young adults in Malgudi.

Malgudi Days

By R. K. Narayan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Introducing this collection of stories, R. K. Narayan describes how in India 'the writer has only to look out of the window to pick up a character and thereby a story'. Malgudi Days is the marvellous result. Here Narayan portrays an astrologer, a snake-charmer, a postman, a vendor of pies and chappatis - all kinds of people, drawn in full colour and endearing domestic detail. And under his magician's touch the whole imaginary city of Malgudi springs to life, revealing the essence of India and of human experience.


The Loophole

By Naz Kutub,

Book cover of The Loophole

Why this book?

Being gay is a true challenge in conservative South Asian households, regardless of religion and regardless of how progressive the families purport to be. I love Naz's wit and fast-paced tale of a Queer Muslim boy. And I love the fantasy elements too, with the djinn! In so many ways, Sy and Reggie’s journey reminds me of a modern version of Aladdin.

The Loophole

By Naz Kutub,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Sy is a sheltered and timid seventeen-year-old queer Indian-Muslim boy who placed all his bets at happiness on his boyfriend Farouk...who then left him to try and "fix the world." Sy was too chicken to take the plunge and travel with him. Stuck in a dead-end coffee shop job with a Quran-wielding father who's all too liberal with the belt, all Sy can do is wish for another chance...

He never expects his wish to be granted.

When a hot-mess-of-an-heiress slams into (and slides down, streaks of make-up in her wake) the front window of the coffee shop, Sy just…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Indian Americans, India, and best friends?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Indian Americans, India, and best friends.

Indian Americans Explore 21 books about Indian Americans
India Explore 333 books about India
Best Friends Explore 57 books about best friends

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Dear Mr. Dickens, The House in the Cerulean Sea, and Turtle Boy if you like this list.