Booking It

July 27, 2007

When I was younger, I was a hardcore reader. I read in every place that it was socially acceptable to do so — and even a few where it was not (church) or was technically challenging (the bath). I even had one of those little pocket lights that attached to the tops of books so I could read at night riding in my parents' car on the drive home.
I wanted to read more about Asian American kids like myself, but at that time Asian American young adult fiction basically meant Lawrence Yep , who was a big favorite of mine. Hungry for anything else that might reflect my community, I also read the entirely age-inappropriate Amy Tan, as well as books set in Communist China (Anchee Min) and modern Japan (Banana Yoshimoto - highly recommended!).
But I really wanted to read a Babysitter's Club that was about Asian Americans; a Sweet Valley High about Asian Americans; and a Sleepover Club about Asian Americans. I wanted to read books about teens who happened to be Asian Americans, like me, but where their ethnicity didn't define them or preoccupy them 24/7, like me. In my dream teen book series, they were just normal teens, who sometimes ate Chinese food but sometimes ate meatloaf for dinner. Their parents spoke English and didn't put pressure on them to study hard, get into Harvard, and marry Asian. They had crushes on other Asian Americans, not white classmates. Their friends were all Asian American.
I realize only now how unrealistic this is - or is it?
I ask you, readers: do you know any books today that portray Asian American youth in realistic, nonstereotypical, non-cliche ways?
Has my dream series finally become a reality?
Should I get out my reading light again?


Lisa Wong Macabasco

Former Editor in chief

Lisa Wong Macabasco joined Hyphen in 2006; she has worked as the magazine's features editor, managing editor, and editor in chief. She has written for Mother Jones, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, AsianWeek, Audrey, Filipinas and ColorLines’ RaceWire. She graduated from U.C. Berkeley and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and co-founded the National Asian American Student Conference. She was formerly an editor at AsianWeek newspaper and an editor in the marketing department of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.



These books are for younger kids, not teens, but I think Lenore Look's Ruby Lu series and Lisa Yee's books represent a step toward what you describe. They're not perfect, but they at least represent another option for readers of that age.
I read Melissa de la Cruz's Fresh Off the Boat just a week or so ago and was overjoyed to find a YA chick-lit-esque book featuring a Filipino heroine. The best thing is, it's frothy and fun and while being Filipino and an immigrant is a big part of who V. is, it's not what the book is about.
girls for breakfast is about an awkward korean-american teenager growing up in the midwest. it's funny in that really painful way, and it does a good job portraying the main character as a normal teenage boy who deals with peers and a identity issues in a realistic way, without being over the top about it.
i agree with you, OP, that there's a lack, and not just in adolescent literature, but, i think, across the spectrum. i was a literature major in college, and one of the courses we were required to take was "ethnic literature." it was taught by a white woman from tennessee. i hated the course because it completely separated these works of "ethnic" literature--which was meant to cover latino/a, african american, native american, as well as asian american, all in one fell swoop--from the [white] canon, implying that these could not and would not ever be part of mainstream literature. but another part of it i found annoying is the fact that so much of the writing did focus/obsess on ethnic identity. gish jen (mona in the promised land, typical american) is an author you might try; i have mixed feelings about her, but she's ... headed somewhere.