Asian Heritage Month is less than a week away, so I figured why not start prepping for the celebration with a list of new and upcoming Own Voice books that celebrate Asian voices! For those who are new to the term “Own Voices,” it’s a term that refers to marginalised authors of under-represented groups writing either about their own experiences, or creating a world that is represented as authentically and properly as possible. Here are eight books by Asian authors you should look out for in 2021.
- The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur (published April 20, 2021)
What’s it about? “After her father vanishes while investigating the disappearance of 13 young women, a teen returns to her secretive hometown to pick up the trail in this second YA historical mystery from the author of The Silence of Bones.” (Goodreads)
A work of historical fiction and a mystery thriller? Sign me up. The story follows protagonist Hwani who disappeared alongside her younger sister years ago and can’t remember what happened. Now, she is determined to find her father after he vanishes while investigating the disappearances of 13 young women in their hometown.
- Black Water Sister by Zen Cho (due to be published May 11, 2021)
What’s it about? “A reluctant medium discovers the ties that bind can unleash a dangerous power in this compelling Malaysian-set contemporary fantasy.” (Goodreads)
Listen to this: a Malaysian-set contemporary fantasy world with a queer protagonist dealing with gods, ghosts and family secrets? Say less; I’m sold. Jessamyn Teoh (better known as Jess) moves back to Malaysia after hearing voices, which she believes was caused by the stress of graduating from Harvard and having no idea what to do with her degree. The thing is, Jess only has one voice in her head, and it’s claiming to be the ghost of her grandmother, Ah Ma, who is determined to settle a score against the boss of a gang who has offended the gods – and Ah Ma has decided to do it through Jess.
- Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar (expected on May 25, 2021)
What’s it about? Sapphic! Asians! Fake! Dating!
You read that right – Sapphic. Asians. Fake. Dating. What more can we ask for? In this novel, we have Humaira “Hani” Khan, the easy going and popular girl at school, and Ishita “Ishu” Dey, the complete opposite of Hani. When Hani comes out as bisexual to her friends, they invalidate her sexuality because “she can’t be bi if she’s only dated guys” (Goodreads). In a panic, Hani claims she’s already in a relationship… with Ishu, a girl that her friends hate.
- Sisters of the Snake (Ria & Rani #1) by Sasha Nanua and Sarena Nanua (due to come out on June 15, 2021)
What’s it about? A lost princess. A dark puppet master. And a race against time—before all is lost. (Goodreads)
A princess and the pauper retelling, but with a rad twist of dangerous and deadly magic, dark prophecies and hidden temples. Rani is a princess longing to escape her pretty gilded cage to prove herself. Ria, on the other hand, is a street urchin trying to keep herself alive. What happens when the two meet? They strike a deal to switch places, only to learn that they must work together to save their home. Oh, and a bonus? The authors, Sasha and Sarena Nanua, are Canadian!
- Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith (expected on July 6, 2021)
What’s it about? A century of Vietnam’s history and folklore comes to life in this “brilliant, sweeping epic that swaps spirits and sheds time like snakeskin” (Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts and Survivor Song). Two young women go missing decades apart. Both are fearless, both are lost. And both will have their revenge. (Goodreads)
Get ready for a rollercoaster ride. This book is riddled with puzzles, is both a revenge tale and ghost story, and takes us from sweaty nightclubs to back-alley street carts to colonial mansions with a large span of more than fifty years of Vietnamese history, all tucked into 400 pages. The story follows the mysterious fates of two Vietnamese women. Although they are decades apart, they are inescapably linked together by ghosts, ancestors and the history of their lands.
- She Who Became the Sun (The Radiant Emperor #1) by Shelley Parker-Chan (expected July 20, 2021)
What’s it about? “Mulan meets The Song of Achilles in Shelley Parker-Chan’s She Who Became the Sun, a bold, queer, and lyrical reimagining of the rise of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty from an amazing new voice in literary fantasy. To possess the Mandate of Heaven, the female monk Zhu will do anything.” (Goodreads)
You already know they had me at “Mulan meets The Song of Achilles.” Want to know something even better? The author, Shelley Parker-Chan, has also confirmed that one of the protagonists is genderqueer! The story is set in China, 1345, when the Mongol ruled. Two children of the Zhu family are given two different fates: the son, Zhu Chongba, a fate of greatness, and the daughter, a fate of obscurity. However, when Zhu Chongba dies in a bandit attack, the daughter takes up her brother’s identity to enter a monastery where she learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes to avoid her own fate.
- How We Fall Apart (How We Fall Apart #1) by Katie Zhao (expected August 3, 2021)
What’s it about? “In a YA thriller that is Crazy Rich Asians meets One of Us is Lying, students at an elite prep school are forced to confront their secrets when their ex-best friend turns up dead.” (Goodreads)
You know what this novel said? Dark Academia but make it Asian. Meet four friends: Nancy, Krystal, Akil, and Alexander. All of them suddenly become prime suspects for the death of their ex-best friend, Jamie Ruan, when “The Proctor” anonymously incriminates them through the school’s social media. All four used to be close with Jamie and knew each other’s deepest and darkest secrets, but now, The Proctor knows them, too. Racing against the threat of The Proctor, the four must uncover the true killer before The Proctor exposes them more than they can bear.
- You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao (publication: November 2, 2021)
What’s it about? “If I Stay meets Your Name in this heartfelt novel about love, loss, and what it means to say goodbye.” (Goodreads)
They had me at Your Name. Who wouldn’t want another heartfelt, bittersweet story laced with the red string of fate? I do, and Julie and Sam give us just that. Julie and Sam have it all planned out, starting with moving in together, attending college, and spending a summer in Japan, but all that changes when Sam dies. Julie, desperate to hear Sam’s voice one more time, calls his phone for his voicemail. And Sam picks up, giving Julie a second chance at goodbye.
I hope that some—if not all—of these wonderful novels have piqued your interest! This is absolutely in no way an exhaustive booklist of all the amazing Own Voice novels of Asian authors that are to be released in 2021. This list contains only a few that I’m looking forward to and have on my to-be-read list, and I hope they’ll be added to yours as well. Happy reading!