Essential Reading: 35 Books We’re Loving This AANHPI Heritage Month

From intimate poetry collections to gripping science fiction adventures, find your next read with Character Media and Penguin Random House. (Covers courtesy of Penguin Random House.)

Calling all readers! 

Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is upon us once again, bringing with it a slew of new book releases and a resurgence of familiar favorites. From action-packed graphic novels to gooey romances and nail-biting thrillers, the API literary community has a book for every reader. 

Whether you’re looking for your next favorite novel or just hoping to meet your GoodReads goal, look below to find the perfect story for all your reading needs. 

Recommendations by Genre


A book must start somewhere. One brave letter must volunteer to go first, laying itself on the line in an act of faith, from which a word takes heart and follows, drawing a sentence into its wake. From there, a paragraph amasses, and soon a page, and the book is on its way, finding a voice, calling itself into being.

— Ruth Ozeki, “The Book of Form and Emptiness”

Now 12 years old, Lei isn’t exactly thrilled to be spending her summer in Hawai’i with her grandmother. Constantly lectured on her family’s mo’olelo — the folk stories she and the kids back home are now way too old to believe — she’d rather spend her days anywhere else. But, after a rogue insult directed at Pele, the Goddess of Fire, sets a curse on her entire family, Lei sees just how real these legends are — and how important they’ll be in her quest to save the people she loves most. 

Ever since his father passed, Benny’s been hearing voices. It was subtle at first — a soft murmur coming from the sock drawer, a whisper passed between paintings on the wall. But now, it’s impossible to ignore. The only place where the noise subsides is the library — a sanctuary of silence and curious characters (both inside and outside the pages). As Benny and his new friends pick their ways through the shelves, see what they learn about love, loss and what we create to fill the emptiness. 

From the moment she was born, Sprout’s life has been laying eggs. Never for herself, of course; always for the farmer. She’s never known anything beyond the cramped coop’s four walls. Every day, she dreams of what might be if she could escape — if she could take with her just one precious egg of her own. In this beloved Korean folk tale, follow along as Sprout dares to chase a life outside the farm — learning about freedom, individuality and what takes to make a family. 


My story will be over soon. But it’s not something to be sad about. As we count up the memories from one journey, we head off on another. Remembering those who went ahead. Remembering those who will follow after. And someday, we will meet all those people again, out beyond the horizon.

— Hiro Arikawa, “The Travelling Cat Chronicles”

Kerewin Holmes is an artist. She’s part Maori and part European but fully estranged from her family. She lives alone in a tower she built on the New Zealand coast, and she’d like to keep it that way. However, when a speechless young boy named Simon mysteriously washes up on her shore, her life is changed in ways she couldn’t imagine. In this Booker Award-winning novel, see how Kerewin, Simon and his adoptive father Joe wrestle with isolation, trauma and what it means to clash with both family and culture.

Nana the cat loves two things in this life: his owner, Saturo, and long drives. Curled up comfortably in the passenger seat — the warm Japanese sunlight streaming through the window as Saturo navigates the winding roads — there’s no place he’d rather be. So, when Saturo (who, curiously, has not been as energetic as he used to be…) announces that they’re going on a road trip, Nana doesn’t care where or why; he just wants their drive to last forever. In this new translation of Hiro Arikawa’s heartwarming novel, follow along as Nana and his beloved companion embark on one last journey, clinging closely to the wonders of their shared world. 

Buckle up — you’ve never heard a road trip story like this. When twin brothers Chuluun and Mun are tasked with finding the reincarnation of a great lama (a spiritual leader essential to their Buddhist faith), they must travel around Mongolia to recover the monk before it’s too late. Enlisting the help of three eccentric believers, the ragtag search committee traverses the steep mountains, grave deserts and icy grasslands of the country they call home — discovering for themselves how the journey amounts to much more than just the destination.

Graphic Novel

“Joy is a precious thing. And precious things are few. So we learn to hold on to them.”

— Trung Le Nguyen, “The Magic Fish”

Nina, Shirin and Silvia have just moved to New York and are well on their way to “making it.” Fresh out of college and settling nicely into their refrigerator box apartment, they’ve just landed their first jobs in publishing (squeal!) and finally starting their real lives. But, what happens when a career in books isn’t what they thought it would be? In this hilariously heartwarming graphic novel, see how these best friends navigate relationships, careers and the nostalgic chaos of life in your early 20s.

For as long as anyone can remember, Tiến’s had his nose stuck in a book. A lover of fantasy and fairytales, he’s learned just about everything he knows from the magical worlds on the page. The one thing they haven’t yet taught him? How to tell his Vietnamese parents that he’s gay. In this beautifully illustrated, masterfully moving graphic novel for all ages, see how Tiến embraces his identity, his sexuality and his true self through the power of story — chasing his own happily ever after.


“If possible, I would like my readers to savor that same emotion when they read my books. I want to open a window in their souls and let the fresh air in. This is what I think of, and hope for, as I write — purely and simply.”

— Haruki Murakami, “Novelist As a Vocation”

Growing up in China, young Qian often heard stories of “Mei Guo” — the vast western nation whose name meant “beautiful country.” But, when unforeseen circumstances bring her family to New York’s shores, Mei Guo feels like something else entirely. As her parents, once professors, take up jobs in sweatshops and are openly shunned in the streets, 7-year-old Qian is rudely awakened from the so-called “American Dream.” In this shining memoir of growing up undocumented in 1990s New York, see how Qian Julie Wang overcomes the struggles, finding her strength, happiness and full Chinese American self.

From Chamorro climate activist Julian Aguon comes “No Country for Eight-Spot Butterflies” — a collection of poetry and prose at the intersection of Indigenous rights and environmental justice. Beginning with his childhood experiences growing up in Guam and extending to his current commentaries on nuclear warfare and global warming, Aguon toils with some of the most urgent issues threatening Indigenous communities today.

Nina met Quincy on the way to a Fourth of July barbecue, when she spotted a copy of her favorite book, “The Woman Warrior,” in his backseat. The rest, as they say, is history. In this freshly published memoir delivered in essays, author Nina Sharma unpacks her experiences being in an Asian and Black interracial relationship. Honest, thought-provoking and deeply funny, read how Sharma deals with caste, colorism and the complexities of American racism as she unpacks her and Quincy’s romance.

Mystery & Thriller

“Our brains are hardwired to want resolution, to want the answer. The bigger and broader the mystery, the deeper the satisfaction when it’s resolved.”

— Angie Kim, “Happiness Falls”

Twenty-year-old Mia has always had an explanation for everything. So, when her father and younger brother Eugene take longer than expected to return from their stroll in the park, she’s certain there’s a perfectly suitable reason. That is, until Eugene turns up bloodied and alone — their father nowhere to be found. This launches the family into a full blown investigation in which Eugene is the sole witness; the only problem? He has a rare genetic condition that renders him unable to speak. In this captivating mystery, join Mia as she grapples with language, family and what it takes to truly understand another.

Geeta’s abusive husband disappeared five years ago. She didn’t kill him, but everyone in town thinks she did. Convinced that Geeta’s blood runs ice cold, most of her neighbors stay far, far away… But, what happens when a certain few women seek her help — scheming to get rid of their own no-good men? 


“In a world fractured by turmoil, there’s much to learn from the profound human experience shared by the uprooted and displaced.”

— Jia Tolentino, “Trick Mirror”

In this witty and wise historical analysis, Indian British journalist Sathnam Sanghera unveils just how much of modern Britain is still rooted in its imperial past. From the way people think to the politics behind Brexit to the nation’s rapid response to COVID-19, Sanghera dismantles the taboo of the Empire and proves that the past is omnipresent — shaping who we are and how the world develops around us. 

Seven decades after China’s Communist revolution, journalist Helen Zia documents just some of the true stories behind the mass exodus out of Shanghai. Following four young people who, in different ways, bravely fled from Mao’s regime, see how their lives were forever changed by the running, refuge and resilience required of them to survive.

“Trick Mirror” is a sharp set of cultural criticisms deconstructing modern ideas of capitalism, womanhood and life in the age of the internet. In nine thought-provoking essays, Filipina author Jia Tolentino discusses the wedding industry, optimization culture and constructions of the female identity across the media — from reality television to literature to politics to everyday life. 


“How else do we return to ourselves but to fold
The page so it points to the good part”

— Ocean Vuong, “Time Is a Mother”

From award-winning Chinese American poet Yanyi comes “Dream of the Divided Field,” a tender poetry collection that examines the many versions of us we keep within ourselves. Pulling from his own experiences with immigration, heartbreak and bodily transition, Yanyi analyzes how who we’ve been informs who we’ll become.

“Rangikura” is the triumphant second poetry collection from Indigenous New Zealand writer Tayi Tibble, whom U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo once called “one of the most startling and original poets of her generation.” In “Rangikura,” Tibble explores relationships, desire and exploitation — constantly chasing the euphoria of endless summer. 


“I’m only on the brink of liking someone right now, and it already feels overwhelming. It feels like it takes so much to reach the point of loving someone. And if you get there — if you find a person worthy of the magnitude of the word love — how are you supposed to give that up?

— Mae Coyiuto, “Chloe and the Kaishao Boys”

It’s Chloe’s last summer in Manila before she’s off to college in the U.S., and she couldn’t be more excited to start her new life. But, before she can jet off to L.A., her auntie insists on throwing her a lavish societal debut — meaning she needs an escort. After going on one awkward kaishao (arranged date) after another, what happens when Chloe actually starts to fall for one of the boys (… and when she has to leave him in the fall)?  

It’s hard to believe that Dee, Misa and Matt met just one year ago, when their paths crossed at the local inpatient psychiatric unit. Quickly becoming the “three musketeers” of the psych ward, they’ve been inseparable ever since. So, when Misa and Matt announce their dream wedding in Turks and Caicos, they can’t imagine doing it without Dee by their side; unfortunately, Dee, who’s been in love with Matt since they met, can’t imagine him marrying someone else. In this hilarious and tender story of romance, friendship and mental health, see how one bipolar woman comes to find the love all around her.

Stella Lane is great at a lot of things: equations, algorithms, breaking boundaries in a male-dominated field; unfortunately, romance isn’t on the list. Nearing 30 and lacking much experience, Stella decides she may need some help when it comes to men. Enter: escort Michael Phan. In this sweet but steamy #OwnVoices story by Helen Hoang, see how one autistic woman navigates her dreams, desires and search for logic-defying love. 

Science Fiction

“Contemplate the marvel that is existence, and rejoice that you are able to do so. I feel I have the right to tell you this because, as I am inscribing these words, I am doing the same.”

— Ted Chiang, “Exhalation”

In nine haunting stories, author Ted Chiang juxtaposes some of humanity’s most fundamental questions with its most imaginative science fiction. Writing about alien scientists, alternate universes and portals that transcend space and time, “Exhalation” opens profound dialogues on existence and free will, turning everything the reader once thought about choice on its head. 

On a mysterious island off an unnamed coast, things are starting to disappear. It’s inconsequential at first — just a tiny tool or trinket that surely would never be missed. But soon, it becomes far more serious. Nearly nobody notices these disappearances, but the few who do are silenced by the Memory Police. And when an aspiring young author discovers that her editor is being threatened by the Memory Police, she devises a plan to help her cling to what — and who — she remembers most.

Self Improvement

“Being brave like women is about making choices based on what we want and what makes us happy, not what others expect or want for us.”

— Reshma Saujani, “Brave, Not Perfect”

In “Brave, Not Perfect,” author Reshma Saujani asks women around the world what would happen if they chose to be bold. Girls are too often taught to play it safe, Saujani argues; to stay quiet, practice caution and only pursue what they know they’ll be good at. As a result, many women grow up with a deep-rooted fear of failure  — a fear that hinders them from reaching for what they truly want. In this inspiring book, Saujani encourages women and girls to embrace imperfection and let it embolden them, urging readers to be “Brave, Not Perfect.” 

Short Stories

“Love’s a miracle, not a disaster. Who said it would be easy, or convenient? But if you can’t sacrifice everything for love, what else is there?”

— Mia Alvar, “In the Country”

In Mia Alvar’s stirring short story debut, she provides nine diverse windows into the global Filipino diaspora. From Manila to Boston, Bahrain to New York, Alvar writes of citizens, immigrants and expats who range from adolescent to geriatric, impoverished to privileged, apathetic to revolutionary — all of whom are desperate for a place to call home. 

A collection of seven powerful short stories, “Shoko’s Smile” captures the diverse and unique experience of being a young woman in South Korea. With protagonists who exist across the spectrums of class, politics, religion and life stages, author Choi Eunyoung weaves together history, family, love and loss in this moving anthology. 

In this breathtaking debut, follow Kristiana Kahakauwila as she travels the islands of Hawai’i. Dissecting the fault lines between locals and tourists, traditions and innovations, Kahakauwila’s short stories provide a magnificent and authentic snapshot of life as it truly exists on Kaua’i, Maui, Oahu and the Big Island.

Young Adult

We all have the terrible and amazing power to hurt and help, to harm and heal. We all do both throughout our lives. That’s the way it is. I suppose we just go on and do the best we can and try to do more good than bad using our time in Earth.”

— Randy Ribay, “Patron Saints of Nothing”

Melody Kim spends most of her days at the corner of 52nd and 11th, scarfing down corner shop pizza with her best friend Sofia. New York is all she’s ever known, and she’s never been in any rush to leave it. So, what happens when out of nowhere, her mom packs up their entire lives and forces her on a one-way flight to Seoul? Leaving her school, her street and all her friends behind, Melody is less than thrilled to move to the motherland. But, with a fancy new apartment, trendsetting fashion and a mysterious new boy to help pass the time, life in the buzzing heart of Korea may prove to be better than she thought… 

It’s the summer before Jay Reguero’s first semester at the University of Michigan, and he plans to spend it sitting back, relaxing and beating his high score on his favorite video game. But, when his Filipino cousin Jun is mysteriously murdered as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs, Jay must venture back to his motherland to uncover the full story.