It’s 1981 and Alma Rosen is a thirteen year-old living in New York City’s East Village. She’s mourning the loss of Grandma Miriam, her paternal grandmother who passed away a few years ago and to whom she was very close. Her parents don’t get along and she’s worried her family is going to further splinter apart. This is the backdrop of Tina Cane’s new novel in verse, Alma Presses Play. The book is marketed as a young adult novel, but Alma is still in middle school and the subject matter is just as appropriate for pre-teens as it is for teens.

House of Glass Hearts, Leila Siddiqui (Yali, September 2021)
House of Glass Hearts, Leila Siddiqui (Yali, September 2021)

Maera and her ammi never talk about the Past, a place where they’ve banished their family’s heartache and grief forever. They especially never mention the night Maera’s older brother Asad disappeared from her naana’s house in Karachi ten years ago. But when her grandfather dies and his derelict greenhouse appears in her backyard from thousands of miles away, Maera is forced to confront the horrors of her grandfather’s past. To find out what happened to her brother, she must face the keepers of her family’s secrets—the monsters that live inside her grandfather’s mysterious house of glass.

South Korea’s Jeju Island has in recent years become almost as popular a backdrop for novels as tourism photos. This is in part due to its evocative female divers and the role the islands played during Japanese occupation, WW2 and the aftermath, in particular the girls who were abducted and sent far away to become so-called “comfort girls” for Japanese soldiers. June Hur’s new young adult novel, The Forest of Stolen Girls, is also set on Jeju and involves abducted girls, except the story takes place some five hundred years earlier in 1426.

Izumi Tanaka is a normal, Northern California teenager. She’s an average student and spends much of her free time at the local diner with her friends, a quartet they’ve dubbed the Asian Girl Gang, or AGG. In her final semester of high school, life as she knows it suddenly comes to a halt when she discovers that her long lost father—a man she has never met—is the Crown Prince of Japan.

Readers of the Asian Review of Books may have noticed an increasing number of young adult (YA) books among its reviews. This is in part a function of increased coverage, but it’s also a result of there being more books to cover. As a genre, Asian YA has grown in both depth and breadth, a development which, as it turns out, is relatively recent and has been led, on the whole, by books which ethnically deal with the Eastern part of the continent. And since publishing is a business after all, one can presume the increase reflects changes in the market. Yet one can’t help but wonder whether it’s a leading or lagging indicator of changes in society, or if it’s entirely coincidental.

While Asian protagonists are no longer rare in young adult fiction, some cultures seem more prevalent in the genre than others. Think Jenny Han’s books and the various K-Pop stories, as well as Taiwanese-American stories like Loveboat Taipei and Rent a Boyfriend. In an apparent first, Loan Le’s debut novel, A Pho Love Story, adds to this list with a rom-com featuring Vietnamese-American teens. Although the details of the Vietnamese refugee experience may not be familiar to all teens, the restaurant setting and accompanying food most likely will be.