Mariko Tatsumoto has made her name as a children’s author; her new book, Blossoms on a Poisoned Sea: A Novel of Love & Betrayal in Minamata, Japan, set during the 1956 industrial disaster, is suited for a more mature audience of adults and young adults. It’s a thrilling coming of age romance of a poor daughter of a fisherman family and a wealthy son of a corporate executive, one that probably resonates more than ever with contemporary readers after the recent pandemic. 

When girls in the Philippines turn eighteen, it’s customary to have a debut, or coming out party at which eighteen male friends or family serve as “roses” and eighteen females as “candles”, thereby making up the debut’s entourage. Mae Coyiuto’s own debut—of a literary variety—is centered around the coming of age party of a Chinese Filipina named Chloe Liang. Chloe and the Kaishao Boys is more layered than the typical, often formulaic young adult novel and combines Chloe’s Chinese Filipino culture with more universal teen issues like pleasing parents and finding independence. 

The trend of novelists to base stories on mythology and the ancient classics—Greek myths, the Iliad, and Beowolf—has more recently been extended to Asian sources. Young adult and middle grade literature, usually au courant with publishing trends, has also begun to embrace Asian mythology in recent years, with three new novels published just this spring.

The Noh Family, Grace K. Shim (Kokila, May 2021)
The Noh Family, Grace K. Shim (Kokila, May 2021)

When friends give her a 23-and-Me test as a gag, high school senior Chloe Chang doesn’t doesn’t believe anything will come of it. It’s been just Chloe and her mom her whole life. But the DNA test reveals something Chloe never expected—she’s got a whole extended family from her father’s side half a world away in Korea. Her father’s family are owners of a famous high-end department store, and are among the richest families in Seoul. When they learn she exists, they are excited to meet her. Her mother has reservations, she hasn’t had a great relationship with her husband’s family, which is why she’s kept them secret.

Laura Gao was born in Wuhan and spent her first four years with grandparents in China while her mother and father studied in the US. When she reunites with her parents, she finds herself in the strange land of Texas where teachers and new classmates can not pronounce her Chinese name, the only name she knows. Gao writes about culture shock and identity in her engaging new book, Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American, a story nicely accompanied by vivid drawings.

To his California high school classmates, Arsalan Nizami seems like an eighty year-old trapped in a seventeen year-old’s body and it’s not without reason. His mother died in a car accident some years back, his grandparents are no longer living, and his alcoholic father has moved to another state. Yet Arsalan has one living relative who is more than capable of taking care of him: his one hundred year-old great-grandfather, Nana. In Sway With Me, Syed M Masood’s new young adult novel, Arsalan is worried about his future after Nana is no longer around and takes his mother’s dying wish literally: to find love before Nana passes away.

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.