The best children’s and teen novels that perfectly capture Asian American identity

E.L. Shen Author Of The Comeback: A Figure Skating Novel
By E.L. Shen

Who am I?

E. L. Shen is a writer and editor living in New York City. Her debut middle-grade novel, The Comeback (Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers) is a Junior Library Guild Selection, received two starred reviews, and was praised for its “fast-paced prose, big emotions, and authentic dialogue” in The New York Times. Her forthcoming young adult novel, The Queens of New York (Quill Tree Books) was won in a six-figure preempt and is scheduled to publish in Summer 2023.  

I wrote...

The Comeback: A Figure Skating Novel

By E.L. Shen,

Book cover of The Comeback: A Figure Skating Novel

What is my book about?

In this debut middle-grade novel, twelve-year-old Maxine Chen is just trying to nail that perfect landing: on the ice, in middle school, and at home, where her parents worry that competitive skating is too much pressure for a budding tween. Maxine isn’t concerned, however—she’s determined to glide to victory. But then a bully at school starts teasing Maxine for her Chinese heritage, leaving her stunned and speechless. And at the rink, she finds herself up against a stellar new skater named Hollie, whose grace and skill threaten to edge Maxine out of the competition. With everything she knows on uneven ice, will Maxine crash under the pressure? Or can she power her way to a comeback?

The books I picked & why

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We Are Not Free

By Traci Chee,

Book cover of We Are Not Free

Why this book?

Told from multiple points of view, this story details the horrific internment of fourteen Japanese American teenagers and their families during the height of World War II. The history of Japanese internment camps is often glazed over in Social Studies classes in favor of celebrating America’s successes in the war, but I was taken by Traci’s unflinching portrait of the teenagers’ lives and choices as they grapple with how to be Asian American in a world that refuses to acknowledge their citizenship and identities. 

Himawari House

By Harmony Becker,

Book cover of Himawari House

Why this book?

I was absolutely delighted by this young adult graphic novel which details three Asian girls’ lives as they live and study in Japan. One is from America, one from Korea, and one from Singapore, and each has such a profound story to tell about their path to self-acceptance and personal freedom. 

Good Enough

By Paula Yoo,

Book cover of Good Enough

Why this book?

I found this book when I was in high school – it was the first story I had ever read that was by and about an Asian person. Patti is desperately trying to abide by her parents’ rules and get into an Ivy League school, despite her Juilliard dreams. One of the first books of its kind, and a story that still rings true today. 

Last Night at the Telegraph Club

By Malinda Lo,

Book cover of Last Night at the Telegraph Club

Why this book?

 This National Book Award winner takes place in the 1950s, and details one Chinese American girl’s journey to understanding her sexuality and herself at the height of the Red Scare and rampant homophobia. It’s literary and exquisite, and I think it should be a part of every reader’s collection. 

The Night Diary

By Veera Hiranandani,

Book cover of The Night Diary

Why this book?

An epistolary novel about a half-Muslim, half-Hindu Nisha, who must face her world falling apart after the India-Pakistan partition in 1947. I thought Nisha’s writing was literary and lyrical while also fast-paced since it is written in letters. A powerful and important addition to the historical fiction genre, especially for young readers.

5 book lists we think you will like!

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Showa: A History of Japan, 1926-1939, Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II, and What Did the Internment of Japanese Americans Mean? if you like this list.