Fueling the Future: How Diverse Literature Inspires Young AAPI Readers

In celebration of the AAPI community, here are four books that inspire young readers to break barriers and fulfill their dreams.

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It’s no secret that books are powerful. They activate the imagination, foster empathy and universal understandings, and simply comfort those who read them. When readers of all ages pick up a book and see themselves and their stories represented, they are transported to a world where they can achieve their goals in the face of adversity, living a narrative they previously believed unattainable. In this highly polarized world, diverse texts are more important than ever. As a member of the AAPI community, here are the books that inspired and empowered me, serving as a testimonial that I deserve a seat at the table.

Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi

Follow Penny Lee as she leaves her noninfluential high school for college, intent on becoming a writer. There, she meets Sam in an unflattering meet-cute circumstance, a mysterious bad-boy type, down on his luck but clinging to his dream of becoming a movie director. They swap numbers and keep in touch, mainly over the phone, falling in love and sharing the burden of the world together as one.

Book jacket for Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi.  On a pink background, outlines of a girl with long black hair and a boy with tattoos and black shirt lay back to back on their phones. The title is in the middle of the them in gold and the author name is in black.

Growing up, Asians represented through literature and television usually fell victim to many harmful stereotypes. But, as a kid, knowing nothing else, I also fell victim to believing in them. I focused on the sciences, telling myself that my heart’s true love for writing was only a hobby. Penny’s success in creative writing opened up new avenues for me, calling on me to follow my heart.

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur

The sequel to her wildly successful poetry collection Milk and Honey, Rupi Kaur beautifully illustrates growth, healing, heritage, and love, both for the self and for others, through her words and art.

Book jacket for The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur. On a white cover, a stem of flowers sits below the title written in black. The stem and leaves are blue, and the flowers are yellow with black centers.

There’s one poem in this collection that I’ve never been able to forget. I know it word for word, where each line ends, and have perfected its enjambment. As a young adult, now fully aware of how I contrasted with the majority of white students in my class, the sun was my enemy. I hid from its rays, worried how it would deepen the color of my skin. The reconciliation with my being was long and tumultuous. Even now, when I falter, I am reminded of this poem.

it is a blessing
to be the color of earth
do you know how often
flowers confuse me for home

The Sun and Her Flowers, Blooming, Rupi Kaur

Home Is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo

A novel in verse, Elhillo’s stunning exploration of belonging and family is told through the eyes of Nima, a young girl who wishes she was someone else. Her relationship with her mother, who grew up in a different country, is one of misunderstandings and barriers, and she loses her inseparable connection to her best friend, Haitham. Nima is confronted with the life she could’ve had if she had been given the name her parents intended for her at birth, Yasmeen. Nima battles with the illusion of this girl, a girl who possesses perfection. In this battle, Nima unearths a fierceness and a sense of self she never knew she had.

Book jacket for Home Is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo. A woman's head emerges from a variety of red flowers on a black background.

Although the author and characters are not part of the AAPI community, this is the first book I’ve read where I felt my experiences as a child of immigrants were seen and understood — the nuanced balancing of cultures, religions, languages, and histories, and even as a child, I was so intimately aware of my own shortcomings in the context of global expectations. Home is a heavy word. It holds many meanings and is intricate and interlaced with a kaleidoscope of emotions. Identity, too, is something of substance, something some people have to journey for, exploring the depths of humanity to obtain.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Set during the Red and Lavender Scare in American history, Last Night at the Telegraph Club follows the story of Lily Hu and Kathleen Miller as they risk falling in love. Lily must comprehend her identity while facing the fear of anti-communist backlash and the possible deportation of her father despite his American citizenship.

Book jacket of Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo. An illustration of a city's Chinatown at night shows two woman embracing in the corner. The title is written like a neon sign. Four circular embossed book awards are to the side.

A poignant intersectional narrative, this novel speaks to fiction’s ability to educate, entertain, and enlighten. Learning of one’s roots, the trials and tribulations of those before one, sets one on a path to a brighter future, equipped with the lessons learned from those of the past. A coming-of-age novel of self-discovery, identity, and love, its empowerment radiates from the pages and is instilled in the reader.

Intentional reading is ever so important, and celebrating diversity in literature is just as necessary. When young readers delve into these inclusive, equitable, and beautiful worlds, they are inspired to make fiction a reality. Diversify your TBR today!

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