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Top Reads for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Posted by Chris Starr on May 6, 2023 3:38:59 PM

Considered the mother of multicultural literature for her groundbreaking research, Rudine Sims Bishop has said that young people need books that are mirrors (that allow them to see themselves and their own experiences), windows (that they can look through to see other worlds), and sliding glass doors (that allow them to enter other worlds.) With that in mind, Oak Knoll sophomore Amelia Pace ’25 is celebrating her Asian American roots and inviting others to see and enter into her world with a selection of books she curated to honor Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Amelia’s maternal grandparents emigrated to the United States from Japan after World War II. Later, her father, Italian American, and her mother, Japanese American, met in Tokyo, married, and settled in New Jersey. Both cultures are honored in their home, where English and Japanese are commonly communicated. 

“I’ve been a member of the Asian American Pacific Islander Society at school since seventh grade, and it’s nice to have that sort of community,” said Pace. “Recently, I was offered the opportunity to take on a leadership role, and I just thought that it’s so important to share my culture — not just for people who have similar backgrounds to me, but also for the wider community here — whether through recommending reading or making presentations when possible. Asian literature is just so fascinating, the style of writing, and I feel that it’s so important for people not of that background to be able to glimpse into the lives of these characters.”


For starters, Pace recommends the following and explains in her own words why she chose them:

Joy Luck ClubThe Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
“I think this is honestly the most classic book you can get into. It's one of the first Asian books that became really well known on the wider market. The story revolves around four Chinese women who immigrated from China, each with their own individual story, and how they formed a community and raised their daughters. Their goals and their heritage from China impact their daughters in the present. The book shows community and hardship in the best way.”

KafkaKafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
“I have not yet read this book but it comes highly recommended from my mother. He’s a very well-known Japanese author but maybe underrated outside that community. The story centers around a teenager who wants to escape his mean father and a family curse. The character renames himself “Kafka” after his favorite author and runs away. The book is filled with puzzles, time travel, and all sorts of magic.”

Snow FlowerSnow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
“The story revolves around a young girl in the Chinese countryside and how she makes friends with someone of a higher class. I think the main reason I loved it is the true value of friendship and how, even with time, especially for women, having that sort of connection and that sort of relationship is extremely important. Also, the author is half-Chinese, so I relate to that bi-cultural point of view.”

71j25Ib5FSL._AC_UF1000,1000_QL80_The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
“While I like reading a really deep meaningful book, this one's just a quick little fun young adult read. It was recently adapted into a TV show on Amazon Prime. Though the author here is Korean-American, in the TV show the main character was cast as a half-Asian actress. That's what really got me into the series. It revolves around a young girl going to the beach every summer and there's another family they've grown close to with two boys who previously saw the main character as a friend or sister-like, but as she blossoms there is budding romance. It's just really nice to see representation on film and the book is an inspiration.”

To all the boysTo All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
“This is the start of another light young adult series by the same author. Again, its main character is half-Asian and I didn’t see a lot of characters like me in stories while I was growing up, so it just means a lot to me that I can see myself in the main character's portrayal. The story revolves around a young girl in high school and she's written letters to all her crushes with no intention of sending them. Her sister happens to see these letters years later and sends them out to all of these people, and the main story is about her having to deal with all those crushes again.”

The namesakeThe Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
“This book was recommended by our librarian Ms. Takenaga and I included it because I think there is sometimes a misconception about Asian literature that it's only East Asian, Chinese, Korean, or Japanese. Just as important is Indian and South Asian literature which is beautiful. This novel revolves around a family that immigrated to America from Calcutta and are trying to fit in while also missing home. They choose a traditional name for their son which causes him confusion and comedy. It relates to the clash of generations in some immigrant families.”

The Buried GiantThe Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
“This is next on my personal reading list. It’s more of a fantasy book about a couple setting off on a turbulent landscape looking for a long lost son. What attracts me is that while I do often see a lot of Asian literature, it's more often than not based in our world and our values. I don't know. It's hard to explain. Not a lot of Asian authors specifically write fantasy in the Lord of the Rings type genre, and if you do see Asian fantasy, it's usually somewhat based in Asian myth. So it's interesting seeing an Asian author go into this genre.”

Our thanks to Amelia Pace ‘25 for taking the time to curate this reading list and for allowing us to find mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors into the Asian American and Pacific Islander experience.

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Topics: reading, student advice, things to do, diversity, equity, inclusion and justice, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage

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