New Novels Feature Contemporary Teen and Tween Asian American Protagonists

Ten new contemporary novels by Asian Americans aren’t traditional tales set in Asia nor stories about coming to America for the first time. They’re written by authors who understand two-time Newbery Honor Book author Lawrence Yep’s (Dragonwings and Dragon’s Gate) removal of the ethnic qualifier before his vocation. “I think of myself principally as a writer,” Yep told the International Reading Association’s The Dragon Lode. “I often write about my experiences as a Chinese American, but I’ve also written about faraway worlds. Writing is a special way of seeing.”

Without a doubt, an Asian American vision has moved into the mainstream of the children’s literary world. In 1994, only 65 of the 5,500 children’s books published featured Asian American authors. Last year, that number doubled. Some of these have become national bestsellers that are guaranteed a place on bookshelves for years to come. Linda Sue Park (A Single Shard) and Cynthia Kadohata (Kira Kira) each won the prestigious Newbery Medal, while Allen Say (Grandfather’s Journey) took home a Caldecott Prize. An Na (A Step From Heaven) won the Printz, an award for young adult novels, and Gene Luen Yang garnered a National Book Award for his graphic novel, American Born Chinese.

In 2008, a wave of middle grade novels (ages 7-11) written by Asian Americans is already catching the attention of readers, teachers, librarians, and parents – and not just within multicultural circles. Children’s literature experts are calling Grace Lin’s Year of the Rat (sequel to the popular Year of the Dog) a “classic in the making” along the lines of Besty-Tacy. Janet Wong’s forthcoming novel Minn and Jake's Almost Terrible Summer explores the joys of vacation and friendship, with Jake divulging that he’s a “quarpa,” or one-quarter Korean. Winner of the Sid Fleischman humor award, author Lisa Yee makes kids (and adults) laugh out loud with bestselling stories like Millicent Min: Girl Genius and her newest title, Good Luck, Ivy. When it comes to books like these, as Newbery winner Linda Sue Park told author Cynthia Leitich Smith (Tantalize) during an on-line chat: “At last it seems we’re getting ready to go to stories where a person’s ethnicity is a part but not the sum of them.”

New releases for teens, too, aren’t mainly immigrant stories or traditional tales retold. These YA novels deal with universal themes such as a straight-A teen struggling with a cheating scandal at her school (She’s So Money by Cherry Cheva), a promising athlete coping with a snowboarding injury (Girl Overboard by Justina Chen Headley), and a Pakistani-born blogger whose father is about to become President (First Daughter: White House Rules by Mitali Perkins). An Na’s The Fold, a novel about a teen considering plastic surgery to change the shape of her eyelids, speaks to all who long to be beautiful, and art-loving teens far and wide will connect with Joyce Lee Wong’s novel-in-verse Seeing Emily. Paula Yoo, a one-time writer for People magazine and television hits like The West Wing, fuses her pop culture savvy and love of music in Good Enough, a novel about a violinist in rebellion. Her brother, David Yoo, connected with hormone-crazed nerds of every race in his funny novel Girls For Breakfast and is offering his fans the forthcoming Stop Me if You've Heard This One Before.

Founder of readergirlz, a literacy initiative for teens, award-winning author Justina Chen Headley notes that these books are relished by readers from many different backgrounds. “There are a ton of interesting cultural trends that make it cool to read about Asian American characters,” she says. “Take manga and anime, for instance. Or Gwen Stefani’s harujuku girls. Mainstream, popular celebrities from actors to athletes are Asian American, and this is filtering into YA and middle grade novels.”

Dr. Sylvia Vardell, Ph.D., a professor at the School of Library and Information Services at Texas Woman’s University, isn’t surprised either by the growing appetite for books featuring protagonists of every race: “Most kids live with ethnic and cultural diversity everyday. It just makes sense that books for teens would reflect this too.”

These stories continue to resonate with Asian American readers as well. Lisa Yee remembers the frustration of not finding many books about American girls like her. “When I grew up, there was no fiction featuring contemporary Asian Americans, unless of course the book was about the struggle of immigrants,” she says. Thanks to exciting changes in children’s book publishing, it’s a different world for today’s young readers of every cultural heritage with many choices when it comes to novels.

Ten authors are banding together to offer FUSION STORIES (, a menu of delectable next-gen hot-off-the-press novels for middle readers and young adults. FUSION STORIES' critically acclaimed authors include Cherry Cheva (Los Angeles, CA), Justina Chen Headley (Seattle, WA), Grace Lin (Boston, MA), An Na (Montpelier, VT), Mitali Perkins (Boston, MA), Janet Wong (Princeton, NJ), Joyce Lee Wong (Los Angeles, CA), Lisa Yee (South Pasadena, CA), David Yoo (Boston, MA), and Paula Yoo (Los Angeles, CA).

A press kit package (available at FUSION STORIES, includes downloads, bios of FUSION STORIES authors, information on their books, and conversations with experts about Asian American literature for young readers. For more information, review copies, or interview requests with any of the authors, please contact

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YEAR OF THE RAT by Grace Lin

YEAR OF THE DOG and YEAR OF THE RAT: THE YEAR OF THE DOG was a very lucky year for Pacy: she met her best friend Melody and discovered her true talents. However, the sequel, YEAR OF THE RAT brings big changes: Pacy must deal with Melody moving to California, find the courage to forge on with her dream of becoming a writer and illustrator, and learn to face some of her own flaws. Pacy encounters prejudice, struggles with acceptance, and must find the beauty in change.

Grace Lin is the author and illustrator of the YEAR OF THE DOG, as well as over a dozen books such as THE UGLY VEGETABLES and DIM SUM FOR EVERYONE! While most of Grace's books are about the Asian-American experience, she believes, "Books erase bias, they make the uncommon everyday, and the mundane exotic. A book makes all cultures universal."



In MINN AND JAKE'S ALMOST TERRIBLE SUMMER (August 2008), the sequel to MINN AND JAKE, we learn that Jake has a Korean grandmother, which makes him one-quarter Korean, or “Quarpa,” as he likes to call it. This fact never came up in the first MINN AND JAKE, and Minn now feels cheated because Jake did not divulge his racial identity earlier in their friendship. Minn accuses: “You didn’t tell me you were Asian!” Jake defends himself: “You don’t care that I never told you I’m part Norwegian and part French and part German! And did I ever tell you that I like taking bubble baths and playing Halo 2 until midnight?” Their discussion raises questions about identity in the lives of multiracial children today.

Janet Wong is the author of eighteen books for children, mainly picture books and poetry collections, including THE DUMPSTER DIVER (Candlewick) and TWIST: Yoga Poems (McElderry/Simon and Schuster). A former lawyer, she chose to write because she wanted to “do something important – and couldn’t think of anything more important than working with children.”

GOOD LUCK, IVY by Lisa Yee

GOOD LUCK, IVY: Ivy Ling is the middle child in a busy Chinese-American household in 1976 San Francisco. Ivy's best friend, Julie Albright, has moved to another part of the city. The only place Ivy feels at home is at gymnastics. When the big tournament is scheduled on the same day as the annual Ling reunion, Ivy wrestles with a difficult choice.

Thurber House Children’s Writer-in-Residence Lisa Yee’s debut novel, MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS, won the Sid Fleischman Humor Award and STANFORD WONG FLUNKS BIG-TIME was named Best Children’s Book of the Year by the Chinese American Librarians Association. NAPPA Honor winner, GOOD LUCK, IVY, is the first American Girl historical series novel and doll featuring an Asian American.

SHE'S SO MONEY by Cherry Cheva

What happens when a good girl teams up with a total player and creates the biggest scandal their school has ever seen? Popular guy Camden convinces Maya that the only way to save her family’s Thai restaurant is to do other kids’ homework for cash, and she soon finds out that everything has a price. Especially falling in love.

Cherry Chevapravatdumrong ("Cherry Cheva") is originally from Ann Arbor, MI. She currently lives in Los Angeles and writes for the hit Fox TV show "Family Guy." SHE'S SO MONEY is her first novel.

GIRL OVERBOARD by Justina Chen Headley

Syrah Cheng is the golden girl. Her dad’s a billionaire, and she has everything from a jet plane to custom-designed snowboards. But an accident exiles her from the mountains - the one place where she’s accepted for who she is, not what she has. Can Syrah rehab her busted-up knee and confidence to realize her true worth?

Justina Chen Headley won the 2007 Asian Pacific American Award for Literature for her debut novel, NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH (AND A FEW WHITE LIES). She is currently touring the country for her novel, GIRL OVERBOARD, with Olympic Gold Medalist Hannah Teter to inspire teens to change the world with the Go Overboard Challenge Grant, co-sponsored with Burton Snowboards. (


First Daughter: EXTREME AMERICAN MAKEOVER and First Daughter: WHITE HOUSE RULESIn book one about Sameera (Sparrow) Righton, she helps her dad win the presidential election. Readers continue to enjoy Sparrow's witty, one-of-a kind take on life at 1600 Pennyslvania Avenue in FIRST DAUGHTER: WHITE HOUSE RULES. These smart, funny, and timely novels provide an engaging behind-the-scenes glimpse into American politics (

Mitali Perkins, author of MONSOON SUMMER and RICKSHAW GIRL, was born in Kolkata, India and immigrated at age seven to the States with her family. She studied political science at Stanford and public policy at Berkeley before deciding to try and change the world one children's book at a time. Her blog ( is a virtual fire escape where she chats about books, movies, music, television, and life between cultures. Sparrow, the protagonist of the FIRST DAUGHTER novels, also blogs, keeping track of the hype about the real First Kid wannabes.


How far would you go for beauty? Joyce Kang has never felt pretty enough especially when compared to her older sister, but when her plastic surgery crazed aunt offers her the chance of a lifetime, to change her eyes forever, Joyce must decide what she believes is beautiful.

An Na was born in Korea and grew up in Southern California. She is the author of two previous novels, WAIT FOR ME and A STEP FROM HEAVEN which was the winner of the Michael L. Printz Award and a National Book Award Finalist.

SEEING EMILY by Joyce Lee Wong

SEEING EMILY: a novel in free verse, speaks directly of the heady, messy experience of being a teenager. Emily, a Chinese-American teen, tries out different versions of herself as she pursues her growing passion for art, her interest in a sexy new student, and her need to break away without breaking her tightly-knit family apart.

Joyce Lee Wong has worked as an attorney, interpreter, teacher, and writer. A graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, she completed a PEN Center USA West Emerging Voices fellowship. Ms. Wong was awarded the 2007 International Reading Association / Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award for her novel, SEEING EMILY.

GOOD ENOUGH by Paula Yoo

GOOD ENOUGH: is a funny, contemporary novel about a high-achieving high-school senior struggling between her Korean parents’ expectations and her growing desire to shape her own future. Patti, a self-described “B-tier violin prodigy” and class valedictorian, recounts her senior year, in which her first deep crush is a powerful distraction from college applications and her parents’ stringent requirements for a “P.K.D.” (Perfect Korean Daughter).

Author Paula Yoo (GOOD ENOUGH, HarperCollins ’08; SIXTEEN YEARS IN SIXTEEN SECOND: THE SAMMY LEE STORY, Lee & Low Books ‘05) is also a TV drama screenwriter (NBC's "The West Wing" and Lifetime's "Side Order of Life”) and a professional freelance musician (violin) specializing in both classical and rock music.


In STOP ME IF YOU'VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE (September 2008), a new novel by the author of GIRLS FOR BREAKFAST, resigned loser Albert Kim has captured the affection of his dream girl Mia, only to get bumped to the sidelines when Mia's uber-popular ex, Ryan, gets cancer. Al's attempt to salvage the relationship is not a popular campaign. This desperately funny love story captures the agony, the mania, the kicking and screaming that define teenage existence.

David Yoo is the author of the novels GIRLS FOR BREAKFAST, which was named a NYPL Best Book for Teens and a Booksense Pick, and the forthcoming STOP ME IF YOU'VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE (Hyperion, Sept 2008). He has published fiction and nonfiction in several anthologies, most recently in WHO CAN SAVE US NOW? (The Free Press, 2008) and GUYS WRITE FOR GUYS READ (Viking). David teaches adult fiction workshops at the Gotham Writers Workshop and writes a monthly column in Koream Journal.