May is Asian Heritage Month in Canada. This is touted, by our government, as an opportunity for us to “learn more about the diverse culture and history of Asian communities in Canada” and for us to celebrate and acknowledge the “many achievements and contributions of people of Asian origin. Not that I need another reason to celebrate the contributions of Pan-Asian people… after all, as Sandra Oh once said, “It’s an honour just to be Asian.”

In honour of being Asian Asian Heritage Month, I did what I do best… I put together a list of 15 incredible books by authors of Pan-Asian descent. From powerful translations reckoning with rape culture to epic fantasies full of treachery and magic to quiet and beautiful family sagas to literary masterpieces – read on for 15 great books to add to your “TBR” (To-Be-Read) pile.

How Far the Light Reaches: A Life In Ten Sea Creatures – Sabrina Imbler

Sabrina Imbler is a queer, mixed-race writer working in the largely white male field of science and conservation journalism. They have always been drawn to the mysteries of life in the deep, and especially to the creatures living in remote or hostile environments. From the mother octopus who starves herself while watching over her eggs; to the strange Bobbitt worm, these essays highlight the uncanny and bizarre creatures that lurk deep below where the light reaches. Through these essays, Imbler explores themes of adaptation, survival, sexuality and care, weaving together the wonders of marine biology, with stories from their own life, family, and relationships. This is a powerful collection that invites us to expand a wilder, grander, more expansive vision for the way we live.

Unbecoming – Seema Yasmin

Set in a not-too-distant America, Dr. Seema Yasmin’s Unbecoming is a powerful, speculative young adult story about two Muslim teens in Texas, fighting for access to abortion, as one of them holds a painful secret.  In a (not unimaginable)  future where abortions are prosecuted, and the right to choose is no longer an option, best friends Laylah and Noor want to change the world, with dreams of graduating and becoming an OBGYN and a journalist. Until then, they’re working on an illegal guide to abortion in Texas. In response to unfair laws, underground networks of clinics and support systems have sprung up, but access has become even more precarious, as it becomes harder and harder to acquire safe medications and supplies. Both Noor and Laylah are more passionate than ever about completing their guide, so they can help those in need, but fighting for what they believe in leads to  more obstacles than they could have bargained for.

If You Could See the Sun – Ann Liang

Ann Liang’s If You Could See the Sun is a smart, beautiful, genre-bending young adult story about an overachieving teen who discovers a new ability to become invisible. Alice has always felt invisible as the only scholarship student at her elite Beijing international boarding school, working hard, and rubbing shoulders with some of China’s richest and most influential teens. However, soon, she starts actually turning invisible. When she finds out that her parent can no longer afford her tuition (even with her scholarship), Alice hatches a plan to monetize her new power – to learn the scandalous secrets her classmates want to know… at a price. As the stakes get higher and higher, Alice has to decide what she’s willing to lose. It’s complicated, tender, imaginative, romantic, tense, and beautifully written, this was one of my favourite reads from last year.

Dragonfruit – Makiia Lucier

Dragonfruit by Makiia Lucier is a dazzling new romantic fantasy inspired by Pacific Island mythology. In the old stories, it’s written that the egg of a seadragon, dragonfruit, holds the power to undo your greatest sorrow. But with all things that promise the world, the story comes with a warning… every wish demands a price. Hanalei is the cherished daughter from one of Tamarind’s old island families, but when her father steals the seadragon egg meant for an ailing princess, she’s forced into a life in exile. In the years that follow, she finds solace by studying these majestic creatures, until a chance encounter offers her what she wants most in the world: a chance to return home and right a terrible wrong. Meanwhile, Sam (Samahtitamahenele) is the last remaining prince of Tamarind, but he will never get the chance to rule in his society’s matriarchal society. He has to either marry, or find a cure for the sickness plaguing his mother. When a childhood companion returns from exile, she brings with her something he hasn’t felt in a long time: Some hope. But Sam and Hanalei aren’t the only ones searching for the dragonfruit, and danger is looming…

A Great Country – Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Bestselling Canadian author Shilpi Somaya Gowda is back with A Great Country. Her latest novel explores the ties and fractures of a close-knit Indian-American family, in the aftermath of a violent encounter with the police. The Shah family has recently moved to the beautiful, affluent, Pacific Hills, California, a move that represents the culmination of the “American Dream” for the Shah parents who first immigrated to America twenty years ago, with little more than their new marriage, and their education. For their children, born and raised in America, success isn’t quite so simple. For the most part, the five members of the Shah family get along, but everything changes when one night, the family’s twelve-year-old son is arrested. The fallout from this event will shake the entire family to their core, while also having individual shockwaves for each of them. This gripping novel explores thoughtful questions, like: How do we define success? And what cost is too high in the face of our ambitions?

Death by A Thousand Cuts – Shashi Bhat

Death By A Thousand Cuts is Shashi Bhat’s latest, a funny, delicious, and engaging collection of stories about the trials and expectations that come with being a woman. A writer discovers that her ex has published a novel about their breakup. An immunocompromised woman finds love, only to be betrayed by her own body. After her boyfriend makes an insensitive comment, a college student finds an experimental procedure that will turn her brown eyes blue. As a woman starts to lose her hair, she begins a nightmarish search for answers. Honest, tender, sharp, and witty, the essays explore a breadth of experiences related to womanhood, from rage and longing, to bodily autonomy, and the ways our relationships impact us, and how we view the world around us.

Real Americans – Rachel Khong

Rachel Khong’s Real Americans is a stunning and immersive generational saga about class, race, visibility, family, inheritance, and coming home. It starts on the precipice of Y2K, in New York City, when Lily, a 22-year-old intern, meets Matthew. Matthew is everything she’s not: Easygoing, effortless, and an heir to a vast pharmaceutical empire. Lily is flat-broke, and the only child of scientists who fled Mao’s Cultural Revolution. She couldn’t be more different, but despite this, they fall in love. In 2021, Nick Chen is 15 years old and has never felt like he belonged. Living with his single mother, Lily, on an isolated island, he can’t shake the feeling that she’s hiding something, so he sets out to find his biological father, not realizing that his journey will raise more questions than answers.

When We Were Sisters – Fatimah Asghar

Poet Fatimah Asghars debut novel, When We Were Sisters, is a stunning and lyrical coming-of-age story about Muslims in America. The story follows three orphaned siblings who are forced to raise each other when their parents die. The youngest, Kausar grapples with the loss of her parents at the same time as reckoning with her own understanding of gender. Middle-child Aisha desperately tries to hold onto her sense of the family, while constantly sparring with her crybaby younger sibling. Noreen, the eldest, does the best she can in the role of sister-mother, while also trying to create a life for herself, on her own terms. This story tenderly and beautifully examines the bonds and fractures of sisterhood, exploring the perils of being three Muslim American girls, alone against the world. This powerful story highlights how, despite everything, we can still make homes in each other.

Five Broken Blades – Mai Corland

I love a good fantasy epic, and Mai Corland’s Five Broken Blades is one of my most anticipated fantasy releases coming this year. When the five most dangerous liars in the land have been summoned together, it’s to complete a single goal: kill the God King Joon. He has it coming, as under his immortal hands, mercy has found no place, as nobles flourish, while the poor and innocent are sold, imprisoned, and ruined. Now, each of the five blades will come for him – from the hired hitman seeking atonement to the lovely assassin seeking freedom to the banished prince – none of them can resist the sweet seduction of revenge. Only one can take the crown, but to survive, they have to find a way to trust each other… may the best liar win.

The Ministry of Time – Kaliane Bradley

Kaliane Bradley’s The Ministry of Time is part time travel romance, part speculative spy thriller, part workplace comedy, and fully a beautiful and exhilarating story about truth, power, and love’s potential to change. In the near future, a civil servant is offered the salary of her dreams in order to work for a newly established ministry that gathers “expats” from across history, to try to determine if time travel is feasible, both for the body and for the very fabric of time. She’s assigned to work as a “bridge”, living with and assisting the expat known as “1847”, aka Commander Graham Gore. As far as history is concerned, he died on Sir John Franklin’s doomed 1845 Arctic expectation, so you can imagine it’s a bit disorienting for him to live with an unmarried woman who regularly shows off her calves. But he’s an explorer by trade, so he adjusts quickly to this new world full of “washing machines”, and “Spotify”, and their awkward housemate dynamic turns into something more, as they fall deeply, haphazardly in love, not knowing the consequences will be unlike anything they’ve ever imagined.

The Empress of Salt and Fortune – Nghi Vo

The Empress of Salt and Fortune is the first book in award-winning author Nghi Vos Singing Hills Cycle, and it is brilliant. Queer, beautiful, fierce, whimsical, and strange, this is the first in a series of short high fantasy novellas that follow Chih, a cleric from Singing Hills whose job it is to travel the lands and collect stories. While on the road, Chih meets Rabbit, a handmaiden who was sold to the palace, and eventually befriends In-yo, the emperor’s lonely new wife, a young royal from the far North, sent South for a political marriage after her brothers died and her armies have been defeated and caged. Both of them are alone, and both of them find connection in each other. The series itself is a beautiful love letter to whimsy and magic, and the power of stories (and who tells them). I listened to most of them as audiobooks, and I can’t recommend doing that enough, the narrator is just incredible.

I Hope This Finds You Well – Natalie Sue

Natalie Sue’s I Hope This Finds You Well is a delight. It follows a young, socially awkward Iranian-American woman, Jolene, working a corporate job that she hates. Her secret to survival is to vent and say what she really means in white text that she hides at the bottom of her emails. One day, she forgets to change the font colour, and accidentally sends a rude message to one of her coworkers. Her punishment? Regular sensitivity training with Cliff, the annoyingly perky new HR guy, and getting monitoring software installed on her computer, so HR can see everything she says. However, due to an IT snafu, she discovered that this software now grants her access to ALL her coworkers’ private messages and emails. Drawn into the private worlds of her coworkers, soon all the walls she’s set up for herself begin to crumble, and she starts to find Cliff less and less annoying. Is she ready to leave the safety and comfort of her cubicle, and enter the real world? This book had me stay up late reading on a Sunday night. I laughed out loud, I ugly cried, and I ADORED it. Tender and sweet, while unafraid to dive into the dark and the difficult, this was a witty and brilliant exploration of corporate culture, and the masks we wear to fit in. This book was messy, complicated, and unputdownable.

Fang Si-Chi’s First Love Paradise – Lin Yi-Han (Translated by Jenna Tang)

Touted as the most influential book of Taiwan’s #MeToo movement, Fang Si-Chi’s First Love Paradise is a heartbreaking and difficult read about sexual violence, reinventing the trauma plot, and subverting the traditional Lolita narrative. This book follows 13-year-old Fang Si-Chi, living with her family in an upscale apartment complex in a tight-knit community. She bonds with her neighbour Liu Yi-Ting over their love of learning and books, and their lack of real-world education. Enter Lee Guo-ha, a serial predator and revered tutor who lives in the building, who is drawn to Si-Chi’s innocence, and offers to tutor both girls for free, which their parents accept, not knowing of his true nature. While Yi-Ting’s studies are straightforward, Si-Chi learns about things that no one teaches them in school – lessons about sex and love that will change the course of her life forever. Confused, alone, and uncertain, she turns to books for guidance, but her beloved literature tells her nothing honest about rape, or abuse, or how to cope with her trauma. One of the biggest books to come out of Taiwan in the last decade, this is a chilling and difficult story that forces us to confront painful truths about the vulnerability and strength of women, and the ones who hurt them.

Behind You – Catherine Hernandez

Bestselling Canadian author Catherine HernandezBehind You is a gripping novel set against the backdrop of a horrifying chapter in Canadian history. Alma is a Filipina woman working for Infamous, a cheesy True Crime series that highlights the most notorious killers of the 20th century. On the surface, her life with her wife Nira, and teenage son, Mateo, is good… but there is a lot left unsaid. Soon, Infamous highlights the Scarborough Stalker, the serial rapist and killer who was attacking women and girls around Scarborough while she was growing up in the late 80s and 90s, and two separate but connected storylines emerge. In the past, an entire city becomes consumed with a manhunt for a terrifying and elusive killer, while Alma navigates her own dangers. Meanwhile, in the present, as an adult, Alma must confront her own ideas of consent, so she can stop her own son’s dangerous behaviours towards his girlfriend. This is a powerful story about resilience, and the insidiousness of rape culture and complicity. 

Martyr! – Kaveh Akbar

Poet and writer Kaveh Akbars Martyr! is his debut novel about a newly sober, orphaned son of Iranian immigrants who seeks meaning in his life, guided by the voices of the artists, poets, and kings who lived before him. Cyrus Shams has been grappling with an inheritance of violence and loss, after his mother’s plane was shot down over the skies in Tehran in a senseless accident. Cyrus is a poet, a drunk, and an addict, who becomes obsessed with martyrs, leading him to examine the mysteries of his past. Electrifying, hilarious, profound, and poetic, this is an affecting, and wonderful story that you won’t be able to stop thinking about.

Ameema Saeed (@ameemabackwards) is a storyteller, a Capricorn, an avid bookworm, and a curator of very specific playlists and customized book recommendations. She’s a book reviewer, a Sensitivity Reader, a book buyer at Indigo Books & Music, and the Books Editor for She Does the City, where she writes and curates bookish content, and book recommendations. She enjoys bad puns, good food, dancing, and talking about feelings. She writes about books, big feelings, unruly bodies, and her lived experiences, and hopes to write your next favourite book one day. When she’s not reading books, she likes to talk about books (especially diverse books, and books by diverse authors) on her bookstagram: @ReadWithMeemz