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The Student News Site of BASIS Independent McLean

The BIM Bulletin

The Student News Site of BASIS Independent McLean

The BIM Bulletin

AAPI Heritage Month Book List

AAPI+Heritage+Month+Book+List

Editorial Note: The works selected for this piece represent the columnist’s choices based upon her reading experiences. 

 

Nearly fifty years ago, May was established as Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. This month allows for a time to celebrate the culture, contributions, and achievements of Americans who draw their heritage from Hawaii, the Pacific Islands, or one of the many regions of Asia. AAPI month celebrates a host of vibrant cultures and communities, from the ancient Desi culture and literature of South Asia, to the rich artistic tradition of East Asia, to the diverse cultural dance practices of a variety of Pacific Island communities. Here is a list of books to help you celebrate, packed with magical peacocks, ancient goddesses, lurking KGB agents, crumbling dynasties, heartfelt immigration stories, and vibrant celebrations of the language, food, music, and values that contribute to these flourishing subsets of America’s blended culture. Enjoy!

Please note that not all of the books on this list may be appropriate for every age group. Books that contain mature themes that may be best suited for high school readers are denoted with an asterisk (*) next to the title. 

Pashmina (2017)

In her 2017 graphic novel, Nidhi Chanani tells the story of Priyanka, an American-born teenager navigating a fraught relationship with her mother. To Priyanka, her mother’s beloved home in India is unreachable, with her American upbringing increasingly clashing with her mother’s loyalty to Indian tradition. That is until Priyanka discovers a pashmina tucked away in her mother’s closet that transports her to a vibrant, magic-tinged version of the India her mother fled. Using the pashmina, Priyanka dives headfirst into an idealized version of India, filled with enchanted elephants, witty peacocks, vibrant marketplaces, and ancient goddesses. However, the farther she goes, the more the secrets of her past begin to reveal themselves to her in the shadows of the glittering, mystical world of the pashmina. Through this fantastical tale of magical realism, Nidhi Chanani paints a portrait of what it’s like to come to terms with the buried heritage and the culture of the world your ancestors fled.

Yellowface (2023)

In her newest novel, Yellowface, author R.F. Kuang dissects the controversial topic of cultural appropriation through the story of June Hayward. After the sudden death of her friend Athena Liu, June Hayward steals Athena’s manuscript and publishes it as her own. To fit the book, June rebrands herself “Juniper Song” and publishes the book with an author photo misconstruing her ethnicity. June’s success soon skyrockets after the publication of the book, propelling her into the life she always desired. However, at the height of her success, things begin to crumble. Public outcries and accusations of cultural appropriation pile on to the growing weight of June’s mounting guilt. In telling this story through the eyes of June, Kuang invites the discomfort that accompanies conversations on the moral gray areas of racial discussions, heightening her themes about culture, privilege, intellectual property, and cancel culture.

Babel, Or The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translator’s Revolution (2022)

In her debut novel, Babel, R.F. Kuang transports the reader back into the colonial 1820’s. When Robin Swift, a young boy orphaned in Canton, is whisked away to live with the mysterious and powerful Professor Lowel in England, he’s suddenly thrust into a dark world filled with magic and corruption. In Kuang’s version of colonial England, the world is run by a magic system that utilizes silver bars to capture the meaning lost between languages. Robin trains for years in linguistics and translations, until he’s able to earn a spot at the elite translation university, Babel. However, as Robin enters into Babel’s world of power, the brutality and corruption of this center of colonial power becomes glaring. Robin’s journey gradually unveils the dark undercurrents of Babel, taking the reader through a harrowing journey about identity, homelands, language, cultural erasure, elitism, and the nature of violence and rebellion. All the while, Kuang’s translation-based magic system amplifies the story, adding to its dark-academia-feel and furthering themes about the entanglement of language and culture.

 

New From Here (2022)

Kelly Yang’s newest middle grade novel tells the story of ten-year-old Knox Wei Evans and his family. As the COVID-19 pandemic begins to tear apart Knox’s community in Hong Kong, his parents make the decision to move Knox, his brother and sister, and his mother to the United States, leaving Knox’s beloved father behind. Once in America, Knox struggles to navigate starting a new school in a foreign culture, while Anti-Asian hate grows to a fever pitch in the community around him as political rhetoric surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic becomes increasingly volatile. With humor, charm, and sincerity, Knox’s story explores family, loss, and hope through the lens of modern struggles.

Same Bed Different Dreams (2023)

In Same Bed Different Dreams, Ed Park utilizes his trademark unconventional storytelling to rewrite history, reimagining Korea into one in which the KGB still exists in the modern day, secretly working behind the scenes to manipulate tech giants and the whims of geniuses to work towards a unified Korea. Throughout the novel, Park develops three distinct narratives that he threads together to paint a portrait of this imaginative, chaotic world. The story threads together everything from presidential assassinations and Korean mythology to Marilyn Monroe and classic American sitcoms into a cohesive narrative that slowly unravels throughout the course of the book, exploring themes of racism, cults, utopia, and idealism along the way.

The Sea of Elephants (2023)*

Set in 1990’s India, Shastri Akella’s The Sea of Elephants tells the story of teenage Shagun. In the aftermath of the sudden death of his younger twin sisters, Shagun flees the guilt and violence at home, joining a traveling theater troupe performing Hindu stories across the nation. There, he buries himself in the beloved stories of his childhood, playing the roles of witty demigods and vibrant demons far from the reach of his abusive father. The Sea of Elephants is a classic coming-of-age tale imbued with the power of storytelling and memories.

All My Rage (2022)*

All My Rage is a coming-of-age story told through two parallel lives: that of Salahudin, a teenager struggling with his mother’s declining health and his father’s alcoholism, and that of Misbah, Sal’s idealistic mother growing up in Pakistan decades prior. The story follows a heartbreaking cycle of destruction, grief, and trauma as the weight of loss and mistakes are passed along through generations, across countries and cultures. All the while, this deeply emotional novel tackles heavy topics such as xenophobia, Islamophobia, domestic violence, and alcoholism. 

The Deep Sky 

Yume Kitasei’s debut novel, The Deep Sky, tells the story of Asuka, one of the 80 young women from around the world chosen to travel trillions of miles across the universe. When a disastrous event kills three crew members and knocks the ship off course, suspicions begin to arise. As Asuka leads the search for the crewmember responsible for the attack, she’s forced to confront her emotional past and the complex history the women all share. While Kitasei tells Asuka’s story, she interweaves fascinating subplots about the mind-bending AI capable of fabricating vibrant worlds and obscuring reality through the VR implants worn by the crewmembers. As Asuka probes deeper, relationships begin to unravel, past injuries resurface, and dark secrets become glaring. 

Aru Shah and the End of Time (2018)

Roshani Chokshi’s Aru Shah and the End of Time tells the story of twelve-year-old Aru growing up in the Museum of Ancient Indian Culture and Art, run by her archeologist mother. Aru struggles to fit in at school, resorting to crafting elaborate fibs to make her life seem as exciting as her jet-setting classmates’. However, after lighting the mysterious Lamp of Bharata on a dare, Aru’s world takes a drastic turn when she mistakenly frees an ancient demon, freezing time. Aru then takes off on a whirlwind adventure, filled with warring Hindu gods, weapons crafted from lighting, mischievous demons, malevolent rakshasas, and ancient curses. Aru’s whirlwind journey will send you soaring from the Underworld up to the cursed heavens, experiencing all the epic triumphs and tragedies of ancient Desi folklore, preserved and beloved across the centuries.

Upon A Burning Throne (2019)*

Rooted in ancient stories originating in the East Indian epics, Upon A Burning Throne tells the story of the Burnt Empire, a dark, mythical world thrust into chaos upon the death of its emperor. As the search for a legitimate heir takes a violent turn, the Krushan family dynasty begins to unravel. Imbued with rich world-building and morally gray characters, the novel takes the reader on a harrowing journey through a world filled with demigods, dark sorcery, warring heirs, and crumbling dynasties. All the while, Banker interweaves classic stories from the Mahabharata, reviving and reshaping these ancient tales into a vibrant narrative about power, legacy, and above all, magic.

Sharks In The Time of Saviors (2020)

In this story imbued with magical realism and traditional Hawaiian folklore, Kawai Strong Washburn tells the story of Nainoa. When seven-year-old Nainoa is miraculously saved from drowning by a shark, he begins to develop mysterious powers. However, as the years unfold, what was once believed to be a blessing from the Gods slowly spirals into a curse that follows Nainoa and his family for two decades. Washburn recounts the story in alternating POVs, telling a family saga about homeland, destiny, tradition, and personal tragedy. All the while, Washburn interweaves the modern problems facing Hawai’i into the narrative, detailing the lurking poverty, cultural erasure, and collapsing industries of early-2000’s Hawai’i.

The Night Diary 

Veera Hiranandani’s Newbery award-winning middle grade novel, The Night Diary, tells the story of twelve-year-old Nisha, a half-Muslim, half-Hindu refugee forced to flee her homeland during the Partition of India in 1947.  Told through the letters Nisha writes to her late mother, the novel recounts the brutality, uncertainty, and violence of the Partition through the eyes of a child navigating her blended identity in a harsh world of black-and-white. In Nisha’s heartfelt, confessional letters, the novel explores the complexities surrounding identity, home, loss, and prejudice, providing a glaring look at the human cost of political and social conflict.

 

Languages of Truth (2021)

In Languages of Truth, renowned storyteller Salman Rushdie takes the reader through a whirlwind exploration of literature, myth, legacy, language, and censorship across the centuries. In this collection of non-fiction essays, Rushdie examines the life and work of the most influential writers and artists across different cultures, crafting a narrative history of storytelling while contributing his own thoughts on the nature of fiction, popular culture, language, mythology and more. These essays allow us a glimpse into the friendships, experiences, and philosophies that drive the creativity behind Rushdie’s vivid, fantastical fiction that has captivated generations.

World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments (2020)

Poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s collection of essays, World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments, is a love letter to family and the natural world crafted with natural lyricism and vivid detail. Each essay in this collection focuses on the species and places that were entangled in Nezhukumatathil’s childhood. From summer nights catching fireflies in jam jars with her family to exploring her identity by falling in love with India’s national bird, each essay captures a specific time period and facet of Nezhukumatathil’s identity. Each story is personal yet somehow universal, transporting the reader into Nezhukumatathil’s unique childhood while simultaneously bringing back one’s own memories of the creatures and places we once called home. 

Mott Street: A Chinese American Family’s Story of Exclusion and Homecoming (2023)

In her 2023 memoir, Mott Street, author Ava Chin details her journey through discovering her family’s heritage and history. She paints a vibrant story of culture and identity, tracing her family’s story back five generations to her ancestors who left the Pearl Delta River to work the transcontinental railroad in the United States. Along the way, Chin interweaves her family’s personal immigration story with a narrative history of the Chinese Exclusion Act and the evolving racial and nationalistic tensions across decades of American history.

Biting the Hand: Growing Up Asian in Black and White America (2023)* 

In her autobiography, Biting the Hand, Julia Lee tells the story of her childhood growing up in an LA marred by the 1992 LA riots. Lee explores the complexity of her Asian heritage as she chronicles her journey through the contradictory world of academia and politics. She confronts uncomfortable truths and polarizing topics with grace and tact, covering the legacy of racial stratification with sensitivity and heart. She incorporates the work of Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and the other authors that drove her personal development as she pursued her PhD in English. As she examines her own experiences, she searches for a way forward, arguing for a resistance to white supremacy that involves living joyful lives in defiance of racial hierarchies.

The Last Boat Out of Shanghai: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Fled Mao’s Revolution (2019)

In her gripping historical account of the tumultuous 1949 Communist Revolution, Helen Zia tells the stories of four children fleeing Shanghai during the mass exodus that followed Mao’s proletarian revolution. The chapters alternate through stories: Benny, a teenager hiding from the legacy of his father’s war crimes; Annou, an unwanted refugee in Taiwan; Ho, a struggling teen fighting deportation in the United States; and even Bing, Zia’s own mother, who was abandoned by her destitute parents to live a new life in America. These four stories show the range of experience during the civil war and resulting crisis. These stories bring to light buried stories, highlighting the real people and tragedies behind the statistics

 

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About the Contributor
Alina A.
Alina, who is currently a sophomore, has attended BASIS since its founding year. Her interests include reading, including genres from fantasy and short fiction to nonfiction books covering history, economics, psychology, and social sciences. Politics fascinates her, and she is passionate about getting involved in current issues through her participation in organizations such as Impact Ink. In her free time, she enjoys oil painting, rock climbing, and piano. She plans to incorporate her extracurricular interests and personal passions into her writing for the BIM Bulletin.