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May is AAPI Heritage Month, a monthlong celebration of the cultures, histories, contributions, and accomplishments of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Originally begun in 1978 as a weeklong event, the entire month of May was officially designated AAPI Heritage Month in the early 1990s. Now, AAPI communities across the country honor the month with celebrations and educational events. It’s also a fantastic time to dive into some of the many, many, many wonderful books out there by AAPI authors!
Like with Black History Month, or Pride Month, or any of the other months that celebrate particular cultures and communities, AAPI Heritage Month shouldn’t be the one month of the year during which we talk about, read, and celebrate books by AAPI authors. That’s a year-round event; it never stops. But there’s nothing wrong with doing a little extra reading and talking and celebrating during May. There are far too many books by AAPI authors to read during one month anyway, so why not start with a few of these fantastic queer books, and you can roll right into Pride Month with a few more?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we are living in the Golden Age of queer lit. I limited myself mostly to queer books by AAPI authors published in the first half of 2022, and even so, it was tough to narrow down this list. I also focused exclusively on American authors, but it broke my heart a little not to include Violets by Korean author Kyung-Sook Shin, translated by Anton Hur, and People Change by Asian Canadian author Vivek Shraya. I’m just saying: there are so many incredible queer books by Asian authors, AAPI authors, and authors from the Asian diaspora all over the world. This list is just the beginning.
Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho
I learned after reading it that technically this is a story collection, but to me it read like a novel. It’s a series of linked stories that follows two Taiwanese American friends as they grow up and come into themselves. Ho beautifully captures all the messy bumps of a lifelong friendship — Fiona and Jane weave in and out of each other’s lives in a way that feels very true to how friendships, especially long distance ones, actually unfold.
Tell Me How to Be by Neel Patel
This novel came out at the very end of 2021 — which means it basically came out in 2022. If you missed it, you’re going to want to fix that pronto. It’s a beautiful, layered family saga about music, regret, brotherhood, redemption, addiction, and so much more. It’s narrated in dual POVs by Renu and Akash, a mother and son whose lives are both defined by relationships from their pasts. Akash is a gay twenty-something who is drinking too much and struggling with his career. When he returns home a year after his father’s death to help his mother sell the family house, a lot of old secrets come out.
Little Rabbit by Alyssa Songsiridej
There are a lot of books about women in relationships with older men, and I tend to avoid most of them. This is a differently beast entirely. The unnamed narrator is a queer, biracial 30-year-old writer who gets involved with a wealthy and well-established choreographer. It’s a story about identity, obsession, bad choices, desire, and queer community — and Songsiridej gives all of these intense themes the thoughtful, nuanced treatment they deserve.
The Verifiers by Jane Pek
Claudia Lin is a lifelong mystery reader, so when a detective agency that specializes in online dating recruits her, she takes the job. Veracity is a firm that investigates potential matches on dating apps to verify if they are, indeed, who they say they are. But Jane’s life takes a turn when her first client goes missing. It’s not the only complication she’s facing — she’s also keeping the fact that she’s a lesbian a secret from her family. This is a fun mystery that will appeal to fans of family drama, as the characters and their relationships take center stage.
Ask the Brindled by No‘u Revilla (August 9)
In her debut collection, which won the 2021 National Poetry series, Native Hawaiian poet, No’u Revilla, explores bodies, language, the legacies of colonialism, the natural world, and grief. Her poems blend the history of the Hawaiian Kingdom, stories from ʻŌiwi culture, and experiences of queerness and queer love. It’s a beautiful book that honors the unique stories of queer and Native Hawaiian women in bright, unflinching, unforgettable language.
Ma and Me by Putsata Reang
Putsata Reang escaped Cambodia with her family when she was 11 months old. In this poignant memoir, she recounts her childhood as the daughter of refugees, her complicated relationship with her mother, and her struggles to reconcile her desire to be a good daughter and make her mother proud with her desire to live her life openly as a queer woman.
The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake
Fans of dark academia and books about mysterious societies, get exited: this brilliant fantasy has just been reissued! The story follows several characters who have all been recruited to join a secret society of magicians — if they can survive the year of trials designed to test their knowledge and skill, that is.
All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews (August 2)
I read this book a few weeks ago and have not been able to shut up about it: so get your pre-orders on! Sneha, an Indian American immigrant, graduates college into a devastating recession. She begins a seemingly perfect job in Milwaukee, where she makes new friends, begins a messy romance, and muddles through her 20s as best she can. Everything about this novel is perfect. It’s about friendship and work, two things which so rarely get treated with such nuance and care in fiction. Sneha’s narrative voice is both snarky and warm. Every scene comes alive. If you’re looking for your next great queer Millennial read, this is it.
Flip the Script by Lyla Lee (May 31)
Fans of K-dramas, rejoice! And mark your calendars for the end of May, because you’re going to want to read this joyful YA novel full of all the best romantic tropes. Hana has finally landed a lead role in a new drama, and she’s determined to get it right. The one thing she’s not counting on is a real-life love interest — especially in the form of the girl who plays her on-screen rival. Things get pretty messy, both on screen and off.
Siren Queen by Nghi Vo
I loved The Chosen and the Beautiful, Vo’s magical queer retelling of The Great Gatsby, so I can’t wait to get my hands on her latest novel, which is set in 1930s Hollywood. But this version of Hollywood is controlled by the fae, and monsters don’t just live on the screen. Luli Wei is desperate to make a name for herself in a world that’s actively hostile toward Chinese American women — and she’s willing to do just about anything to achieve her dreams.
Nuclear Family by Joseph Han (June 7)
This novel isn’t out for a few weeks, but it’s such a beautiful, original book — I had to include it. When Jacob is arrested trying to get across the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, it throws his family back in Hawai’i into turmoil. His parents are trying to keep their plate lunch restaurant alive, while his sister starts spending most of her time getting high. None of them realize that Jacob has been possessed by the ghost of his grandfather, who is desperately trying to find the family he lost in the war. The story unfolds in a chorus of voices, both dead and alive. It’s a gorgeous meditation on loss and memory, a painful and haunting novel about the legacies of war and the violence of separation.
All the Flowers Kneeling by Paul Tran
In these sparkling, melodic, devastating poems, Paul Tran explores generational trauma, queerness, art, language, and the slow and complicated journey of healing from sexual violence. This is one of those books where I eventually stopped marking passages because I wanted to mark every one. The poems are just that good.
Messy Roots by Laura Gao
This is a beautiful graphic novel about home, culture, identity, language, and the messy process of coming into self. Laura Gao was born in Wuhan, China, and immigrated to the U.S. to join her parents at the age of four. She writes about her childhood in Texas, her college years, and what it’s like being a Wuhanese American during the pandemic. She uses distinct art styles to represent the various places that have shaped her life — Wuhan, Texas, the Bay Area — and it gives the book a wonderful sense of motion and vibrancy.
Looking for more fantastic queer books by AAPI and Asian authors? Check out these queer contemporary books by Asian writers, these queer Asian YA books, and these LGBTQ+ South Asian books! And if you’re ready for your May TBR to absolutely explode, check out this amazing list of Asian American books to read this year, these 2022 short story collections by Asian authors, and these must-read South Asian books out in 2022!
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