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.

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.