A poisoned food critic, a viral violinist and a Chinese American assassin — 15 must-read AAPI books from 2021

Asian American Authors 2021

Asian American writers published a range of works this year, featuring stories as diverse and complex as Asian America itself. Through short story collections, novels, memoirs and essay collections, these writers contributed to the literary body of our diverse diasporic communities this year.

FICTION – SHORT STORIES

“Afterparties” by Anthony Veasna So

So, who passed away in late 2020, captured multitudes within the Cambodian diasporic experience in this debut short story collection.

“Skinship” by Yoon Choi

Another debut short story collection, Choi’s book features diverse and complex Korean American characters who wrestle with their pasts. 

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Skinship

FICTION – SCI-FI, FANTASY, MYSTERY 

“Iron Widow” by Xiran Jay Zhao

In this sci-fi novel inspired by Chinese history and myth, Zhao’s barrier-breaking heroine ascends to powerful heights. 

“Arsenic and Adobo” by Mia P. Manansala

This “cozy mystery” and romance novel follows a cook accused of poisoning an unfair food critic, who launches her own investigation to clear her name. 

“Black Water Sister” by Zen Cho

Cho’s contemporary fantasy novel set in Malaysia centers around a protagonist who finds herself unexpectedly in touch with the supernatural and with access to great power. 

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Black Water Sister

FICTION – ROMANCE NOVELS

“The Heart Principle” by Helen Hoang

Romance writer Hoang’s third novel features an accidentally viral violinist who needs a partner who can accept her unconditionally. 

“First Comes Like” by Alisha Rai

Rai’s third novel features a fresh and funny twist on online dating and catfishing, with the high-stakes backdrop of the world of influencers and Bollywood. 

The Heart Principle

FICTION – LITERARY FICTION NOVELS

“The Bad Muslim Discount” by Syed Masood

Masood’s sharp, witty novel follows two immigrant families from Iraq and Pakistan as they make new lives in the United States. 

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“The Archer” by Shruti Swamy

This coming-of-age novel follows a protagonist through 1970s Bombay, navigating family and societal expectations while pursuing her passion for kathak, a traditional dance form. 

“Build Your House Around My Body” by Violet Kupersmith

Kupersmith’s novel about a mixed race Vietnamese and white American protagonist who disappears in Saigon contains narratives intertwined with the surreal. 

“The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu” by Tom Lin

This reimagining of the Western genre features a Chinese American assassin on a killing spree and twists classic tropes of the American West.

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Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu

NONFICTION – MEMOIR

“Crying in H Mart” by Michelle Zauner

Zauner, also known as the singer from Japanese Breakfast, writes about the mixed Korean American experience, grief and loss. 

“Beautiful Country” by Qian Julie Wang

In one of former President Barack Obama’s favorite books of 2021, Wang shares her childhood growing up in New York City as an undocumented immigrant. 

“Speak, Okinawa” by Elizabeth Miki Brini

Brini unpacks imbalanced power dynamics in her family with her white father and Okinawan mother, processing the shame she felt around her mixed-race identity. 

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Crying in HMart

NONFICTION – ESSAYS

“The Loneliest Americans” by Jay Caspian Kang

Kang, a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine, tackles Asian American political identity and its vast discontents in this provocative work.

The Loneliest Americans

Looking to purchase any of these titles? Consider supporting an AAPI-owned bookstore. You can order online from many of the listed sellers. 

Images via HarperCollins Publishers, Penguin Random House, Little Brown and Company, Workman

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