Iris Weijun Wang is just like any other New Jersey teen. She enjoys shopping, hanging out with friends and spending time with her boyfriend. Her parents are Chinese immigrants who speak English at home and are pretty hands off when it comes to their daughter’s school work and extracurricular activities. But when they learn during Iris’s last semester of high school that she’s about to flunk out and has been rejected from every college she has applied to, Iris’s parents flip out. Her otherwise laid-back father comes up with the perfect solution to teach Iris some responsibility. Off to China she goes.
Jane Austen can take a rest. It’s Tolstoy’s turn.
At the start of Kelly Yang’s debut YA novel, Parachutes, she notes the story includes incidents of sexual harassment and rape. Although Yang has been wanting to write this story for almost two decades, this novel about high school students who move alone to the US while their parents stay back in China couldn’t be better timed. While the concept of parachute students isn’t new—it was pioneered by Hong Kong students in the 1990s—mainland Chinese families have adopted the custom and students from China account for the largest group of international high school students in the US (and, indeed, other countries from Australia to Britain).
Samira Ahmed is a force in young adult literature, bringing voice to Muslim American teens and calling out increasingly rampant Islamophobia. In her latest novel, Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know, she combines a contemporary story with historical fiction that reaches back to Lord Byron (who bore the sobriquet that also titles the novel), Alexandre Dumas and Eugene Delacroix. Two young women are at the centers of these stories, thereby telling history from women’s perspectives.
Despite the rise in diversity in Young Adult literature, not least stories by Asian writers, there’s still a dearth of stories starring strong Asian males, perhaps due to the fact that most YA authors are women.
When Abigail Hing Wen was a teenager, she spent a summer in Taiwan to get in touch with her Chinese roots. The program, funded by the Republic of China, has been dubbed the “love boat”, but has nothing to do with ships or the sea.
The cover of Somewhere Only We Know, Maurene Goo’s latest young adult novel, isn’t inordinately different from other contemporary romantic comedies: a young Asian woman is seated while a young Asian man leans into her back, only part of his face and an arm are visible. Yet the story is unusually set almost completely in Hong Kong while the protagonist, Lucky, is an equally unlikely American-born internationally renowned teenage K-Pop star who isn’t a household name in the United States—yet.