Stories for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May is Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Here are six works of fiction for intermediate and middle-school readers — novels, graphic novels, a short story collection — set in North America and starring characters of Asian heritage. And for slightly older readers, see our Five Questions interview with Paula Yoo about her nonfiction book Rising from the Ashes: Los Angeles, 1992. Edward Jae Song Lee, Latasha Harlins, Rodney King, and a City on Fire, and Erika Lee and Christina Soontornvat’s Made in Asian America: A History for Young People

The Partition Project
by Saadia Faruqi
Intermediate, Middle School    Quill Tree/HarperCollins    416 pp.
2/24    9780063115811    $19.99
e-book ed.  9780063115873    $10.99

Seventh grader Mahnoor Raheem is less than thrilled when her Pakistani grandmother, Dadi, comes to live with them in Texas. Not only does Maha have to give up her bedroom, but her father also expects her to “babysit” his mother while he and Maha’s mom work long hours at the hospital. Although her home life is disrupted, Maha is excited about her media studies elective; she sees the class as a steppingstone to pursuing her dream of becoming a journalist. A class project — making “a documentary on a topic that’s newsworthy” — gives Maha the opportunity to learn more about Dadi’s life and an appreciation for what history can teach us about the present. By spending time with her grandmother prepping meals, participating in her first Ramadan fast, and playing board games, she learns a great deal about the 1947 Partition of British India into India and Pakistan. Faruqi introduces readers to the Partition, the largest mass migration in history, through relatable characters experiencing recognizable middle-school dynamics. The conversational style of the historical retelling offsets some of the heavier issues of rampant violence, refugee resettlement, and trauma. Readers are rewarded with a deeply immersive and moving story as Maha experiences a shift in understanding of her hyphenated identities and connects her family’s history to other immigrant experiences. SADAF SIDDIQUE

Next Stop
by Debbie Fong; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School    RH Graphic/Random    272 pp.
3/24    9780593425206    $21.99
Library ed.  9780593425213    $24.99
Paper ed.  9780593425183    $13.99
e-book ed.  9780593425190    $8.99

Fong’s deeply moving graphic novel opens with an intriguing premise: Pia Xing, a reserved and lonely middle schooler, says goodbye to her father and embarks on a multi-day bus tour through the desert with a bunch of strangers. Their destination is the subterranean bioluminescent Cessarine Lake, billed as having mystical, wish-granting powers. During stops at diners and kitschy roadside attractions, Pia gets to know her fellow passengers, all of whom have their own reasons for making the journey. Pia isn’t ready to share hers — not even with new friend Sam, who’s grudgingly accompanying her tour-guide mom. Daily phone calls home to her father and flashbacks from the previous year gradually reveal what led to this solo trip, including the tragedy that left Pia and both her parents mired in grief. In varied panel and full-page illustrations, Fong’s spare cartoon style is well suited to the setting and the main character’s bleak emotional landscape. The trip offers moments of peace and lightheartedness: “I’m actually having a lot of fun! It kind of feels like being part of a big family.” The story begins to take on elements of magical realism the closer the group gets to the lake, making the impossible begin to seem possible. Pia’s miracle looks different from what she set out looking for, but the magic is transformative all the same. With a sympathetic protagonist navigating unimaginable pain, fully realized and engaging secondary characters, and a skillfully crafted narrative, this is a remarkable debut. KITTY FLYNN

The Door Is Open: Stories of Celebration and Community by 11 Desi Voices
edited by Hena Khan
Intermediate, Middle School    Little, Brown    336 pp.
4/24    9780316450638    $17.99
e-book ed.  9780316450836    $9.99

Focused on a community center in the fictional town of Maple Grove, New Jersey, this powerful collection of short stories celebrates the broad diversity of middle schoolers from the South Asian community, commonly referred to as desi. Over the course of the eleven interrelated stories, protagonists celebrate major life events, holidays, and the more mundane at the community center. The dilapidated building serves as the focal point for a heavily Asian American community but is also a target of xenophobic opportunists, who use coded (and sometimes overt) language to try to shut it down. “Together at the Center” by Khan, “Out in the Open” by Rajani LaRocca, and “The Map of Home” by Sayantani DasGupta showcase the importance of open dialogue, community, and speaking out against anti-Asian/South Asian and ­Islamophobic incidents. Mitali Perkins’s “Smile Number Seven” and “Answered Prayers” by N. H. Senzai address in-group judgment, both real and perceived, ethnic and religious; resulting self-defense mechanisms are handled with nuance and care in relation to single-parent households, disability, and domestic violence. Back matter includes a note from Khan and contributing authors’ bios. ARIANA HUSSAIN

Make a Move, Sunny Park!
by Jessica Kim
Intermediate, Middle School    Kokila/Penguin    352 pp.
8/23    9780525555001    $18.99
e-book ed.  9780525555018    $10.99

Korean American Sunny Park wants to support her best friend, Bailey, whose parents are getting divorced (she also wants to avoid Bailey’s resentment). Although Sunny struggles with social anxiety, she agrees to endure the judgment of fellow seventh graders by auditioning for the middle-school dance team with Bailey. When Sunny makes the team and Bailey doesn’t, their friendship becomes strained. Sunny bonds with teammates who share her love of the same K-pop group, an interest that Bailey has derided as immature. Finding solace in her supportive family, Sunny is especially close to her halmoni, who moved in after Sunny’s grandfather passed away. Sunny shares the joy of K-pop while her grandmother shares advice and stories of her own childhood as she prepares (vividly described) Korean dishes. Despite the challenges of navigating social interactions, making mistakes, and reflecting on relationships, Sunny finds personal growth and leadership through the dance team. Kim offers humor, tween drama, and a satisfying conclusion in this well-paced story of self-discovery. KRISTINE TECHAVANICH

The Unbeatable Lily Hong
by Diana Ma
Intermediate, Middle School    Clarion/HarperCollins    304 pp.
1/24    9780358617235    $19.99
e-book ed.  9780063341876    $11.99

Ma offers a fresh take on the local fundraiser story by weaving in themes of community, identity, and gentrification. Nerdy, mythology-obsessed Lily Hong, twelve, leads a split life in the Seattle exurbs. At school, Lily competes academically with Max Zhang, the other Chinese American student in her seventh-grade class. After school, Lily reluctantly attends her parents’ Mandarin academy at the local community center. She yearns to make a Buffy-style vampire film for the local talent competition, but problems arise when Max’s rich parents want to buy the building and replace the community center with a new office building. The Hongs organize a last-minute Chinese dance fundraising show; suddenly Lily is taking fan- and lion-dance lessons alongside her archnemesis and discovers there is more behind his snobby facade. Ma empathetically portrays Lily’s conflict between making the film with friends and her family obligations. A little-known phoenix myth is cleverly used as a symbol to show Lily’s slow realization of how important the Chinese school and community center are to her and her small town. An enjoyable read, especially for arts-obsessed or community-focused tweens. MICHELLE LEE

by Ray Xu; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School    Union Square    240 pp.
1/24    9781454945840    $24.99
Paper ed.  9781454945857    $14.99

Kevin Lee, a 1990s Chinese Canadian boy, struggles with being invisible among his peers, but somehow lands in the spotlight at the most embarrassing moments. When he brings preserved eggs to middle school for lunch, he becomes a laughingstock and gains the nickname “Egg Boy.” Then in gym class he throws a basketball and accidentally hits the substitute teacher, knocking out a tooth. His parents’ divorce doesn’t make his life any easier: his older sister resents taking on extra responsibilities as she prepares for college, while his mother barely makes ends meet running an alterations shop. When Popo, his maternal grandmother, arrives from China, she reminds him that “today’s pain is tomorrow’s strength.” Xu’s coming-of-age graphic novel follows Kevin’s ups and downs as he strives to fit in at school, get along with his sister, and help his mom. He takes refuge in a fantasy world of comics depicted by lively, action-packed panels — a world that later comes to life at an amusement park. Amusing facial expressions and gestures capture the distinctive persona of each character and their interactions. Themes of sacrifice, survival, and love abound in a multidimensional story of navigating the bumpy terrain of family tensions and resilience across generations. JERRY DEAR

From the May 2024 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Horn Book
Horn Book

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