Books for Grown Folk: Reading Recs for Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month
Grown up books for grown up folks!
If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha
Kyuri is an achingly beautiful woman with a hard-won job at a Seoul “room salon,” an exclusive underground bar where she entertains businessmen while they drink. Though she prides herself on her cold, clear-eyed approach to life, an impulsive mistake threatens her livelihood.
Kyuri’s roommate, Miho, is a talented artist who grew up in an orphanage but won a scholarship to study art in New York. Returning to Korea after college, she finds herself in a precarious relationship with the heir to one of the country’s biggest conglomerates.
Down the hall in their building lives Ara, a hairstylist whose two preoccupations sustain her: an obsession with a boy-band pop star, and a best friend who is saving up for the extreme plastic surgery that she hopes will change her life.
And Wonna, one floor below, is a newlywed trying to have a baby that she and her husband have no idea how they can afford to raise in Korea’s brutal economy.
Together, their stories tell a gripping tale at once unfamiliar and unmistakably universal, in which their tentative friendships may turn out to be the thing that ultimately saves them. (Randomhouse Publishing Group)
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
A Little Life follows four college classmates—broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition—as they move to New York in search of fame and fortune. While their relationships, which are tinged by addiction, success, and pride, deepen over the decades, the men are held together by their devotion to the brilliant, enigmatic Jude, a man scarred by an unspeakable childhood trauma. A hymn to brotherly bonds and a masterful depiction of love in the twenty-first century, Hanya Yanagihara’s stunning novel is about the families we are born into, and those that we make for ourselves. (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives.
In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned—from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.
Enter Mia Warren—an enigmatic artist and single mother—who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.
When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town—and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.
Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood—and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster. (Penguin Publishing Group)
Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden
Acclaimed literary essayist T Kira Madden’s raw and redemptive debut memoir is about coming of age and reckoning with desire as a queer, biracial teenager amidst the fierce contradictions of Boca Raton, Florida, a place where she found cult-like privilege, shocking racial disparities, rampant white-collar crime, and powerfully destructive standards of beauty hiding in plain sight.
As a child, Madden lived a life of extravagance, from her exclusive private school to her equestrian trophies and designer shoe-brand name. But under the surface was a wild instability. The only child of parents continually battling drug and alcohol addictions, Madden confronted her environment alone. Facing a culture of assault and objectification, she found lifelines in the desperately loving friendships of fatherless girls.
With unflinching honesty and lyrical prose, spanning from 1960s Hawai’i to the present-day struggle of a young woman mourning the loss of a father while unearthing truths that reframe her reality, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls is equal parts eulogy and love letter. It’s a story about trauma and forgiveness, about families of blood and affinity, both lost and found, unmade and rebuilt, crooked and beautiful. (Bloomsbury USA)
Black Ice Matter by Gina Cole
This collection of short stories explores connections between extremes of heat and cold. Sometimes this is spatial or geographical; sometimes it is metaphorical. Sometimes it involves juxtapositions of time; sometimes heat appears where only ice is expected. In the stories, a woman is caught between traditional Fijian ways and the brutality of the military dictatorship; a glaciology researcher falls into a crevasse and confronts the unexpected; two women lose children in freak shooting accidents; a young child in a Barbie Doll sweatshop dreams of a different life; secondary school girls struggle with secrets about an addicted janitor; and two women take a deathly trip through a glacier melt stream. These are some of the unpredictable stories in this collection that follow themes of ice and glaciers in the heat of the South Pacific and take us into unusual lives and explorations. (Huia (NZ) Ltd)
Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao
Poornima and Savitha have three strikes against them: they are poor, they are ambitious, and they are girls. After her mother’s death, Poornima has very little kindness in her life. She is left to care for her siblings until her father can find her a suitable match. So when Savitha enters their household, Poornima is intrigued by the joyful, independent-minded girl. Suddenly their Indian village doesn’t feel quite so claustrophobic, and Poornima begins to imagine a life beyond arranged marriage. But when a devastating act of cruelty drives Savitha away, Poornima leaves behind everything she has ever known to find her friend.
Her journey takes her into the darkest corners of India’s underworld, on a harrowing cross-continental journey, and eventually to an apartment complex in Seattle. Alternating between the girls’ perspectives as they face ruthless obstacles, Shobha Rao’s Girls Burn Brighter introduces two heroines who never lose the hope that burns within.(Flatiron Books)
The Sympathizer (Pulitzer Prize Winner) by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as six other awards, The Sympathizer is the breakthrough novel of the year. With the pace and suspense of a thriller and prose that has been compared to Graham Greene and Saul Bellow, The Sympathizer is a sweeping epic of love and betrayal. The narrator, a communist double agent, is a “man of two minds,” a half-French, half-Vietnamese army captain who arranges to come to America after the Fall of Saigon, and while building a new life with other Vietnamese refugees in Los Angeles is secretly reporting back to his communist superiors in Vietnam. The Sympathizer is a blistering exploration of identity and America, a gripping espionage novel, and a powerful story of love and friendship. (Grove Atlantic Inc.)
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
After 103 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and with four million copies of The Kite Runner shipped, Khaled Hosseini returns with a beautiful, riveting, and haunting novel that confirms his place as one of the most important literary writers today.
Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them-in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul-they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation. With heart-wrenching power and suspense, Hosseini shows how a woman’s love for her family can move her to shocking and heroic acts of self-sacrifice, and that in the end it is love, or even the memory of love, that is often the key to survival.
A stunning accomplishment, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a haunting, heartbreaking, compelling story of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love.(Penguin Publishing Group)
The Leavers by Lisa Ko
A Chinese woman who works in a New York nail salon doesn’t come home one day; her young son is raised by well-meaning strangers who cannot heal his broken heart.We meet Bronx fifth-grader Deming Guo on the day his mother disappears without a trace. From there, the story moves both forward and backward, intercutting between the narrative of his bumpy path to adulthood and his mother’s testimony. Gradually the picture comes together—Deming was conceived in China and born in America because his unmarried mother, Peilan, decided she would rather borrow the $50,000 to be smuggled to America than live out her life in her rural village. After her baby is born she tries to hide him underneath her sewing machine at work, but clearly she cannot care for him and work enough to repay the loan shark. She sends him back to China to be raised by her aging father. When Deming is 6, Yi Ba dies, and the boy rejoins his mother, who now has a boyfriend and lives with him; his sister, Vivian; and her son, Michael. After Peilan disappears, Deming is shuffled into foster care—his new parents are a pair of white academics upstate. Ten years later, it is Michael who tracks down a college dropout with a gambling problem named Daniel Wilkinson and sends a message that, if he is Deming Guo, he has information about his mother. The twists and turns continue, with the answers about Peilan’s disappearance withheld until the final pages. Daniel’s involvement in the alternative music scene is painted in unnecessary detail, but otherwise the specificity of the intertwined stories is the novel’s strength. Ko’s debut is the winner of the 2016 Pen/Bellwether Prize for Fiction for a novel that addresses issues of social justice, chosen by Barbara Kingsolver. This timely novel depicts the heart- and spirit-breaking difficulties faced by illegal immigrants with meticulous specificity. -Kirkus Reviews (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill)
A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum
In her debut novel Etaf Rum tells the story of three generations of Palestinian-American women struggling to express their individual desires within the confines of their Arab culture in the wake of shocking intimate violence in their community—a story of culture and honor, secrets and betrayals, love and violence. Set in an America at once foreign to many and staggeringly close at hand, A Woman Is No Man is an intimate glimpse into a controlling and closed cultural world, and a universal tale about family and the ways silence and shame can destroy those we have sworn to protect.
“Where I come from, we’ve learned to silence ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence will save us. Where I come from, we keep these stories to ourselves. To tell them to the outside world is unheard of—dangerous, the ultimate shame.”
Palestine, 1990. Seventeen-year-old Isra prefers reading books to entertaining the suitors her father has chosen for her. Over the course of a week, the naïve and dreamy girl finds herself quickly betrothed and married, and is soon living in Brooklyn. There Isra struggles to adapt to the expectations of her oppressive mother-in-law Fareeda and strange new husband Adam, a pressure that intensifies as she begins to have children—four daughters instead of the sons Fareeda tells Isra she must bear.
Brooklyn, 2008. Eighteen-year-old Deya, Isra’s oldest daughter, must meet with potential husbands at her grandmother Fareeda’s insistence, though her only desire is to go to college. Deya can’t help but wonder if her options would have been different had her parents survived the car crash that killed them when Deya was only eight. But her grandmother is firm on the matter: the only way to secure a worthy future for Deya is through marriage to the right man.
But fate has a will of its own, and soon Deya will find herself on an unexpected path that leads her to shocking truths about her family—knowledge that will force her to question everything she thought she knew about her parents, the past, and her own future. (HarperCollins Publisher)