The Best AAPI Characters in YA Literature


May is upon us once again which means it’s AAPI month! AAPI month honors Asian American and Pacific Islanders and those with AAPI heritage. As a first generation Asian American, I’ve always loved reading stories that are representative of my experiences. Books featuring AAPI characters at their forefront can provide insight into what expectations, experiences, and identity issues many members of the AAPI community feel. They can also educate people on the vastly different—but beautiful—cultures that many Asian American families keep alive even when they are apart from their homeland. While a lot of my favorite AAPI characters are from South Asian descent, I have an equal amount of love for characters of different backgrounds as well since they provide me with knowledge about other Asian and Pacific Islander cultures.

1. Sweetie – There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon

Probably my all time favorite character from any book I’ve read, Sweetie Nair was the first character I found that I completely connected with. Not only did I appreciate her culture and personality, but, more importantly, I appreciated the discussion regarding body image which is often overlooked in South Asian society. Reading this book from Sweetie’s perspective as a plus size main character reaffirmed my experience within a community that is often too harsh and quite judgmental!

2. Lily – Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

As one of the first books with both Asian and open queer representation that I’ve read, Last Night at the Telegraph Club deserves a spot on this list. There is absolutely no way I could make this list without including Lily, one of my more recent favorite characters! With discussions of the pressure of conformity and the fear of disappointing your parents, not only is Lily’s story one that resonates with the LGBTQ+ community, but also one that resonates with the common fear of disappointment that many children of immigrants feel — the question of whether your happiness is worth the sacrifice they made.

3. Amina – Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

An incredibly impactful middle grade novel that tackles issues with identity and racism in an approachable manner, Amina’s Voice was one of the first books I read that dealt with racism in such a clear way. Amina was both sassy and vulnerable, and she perfectly embodies the struggles that some AAPI individuals face regarding the identity tied to their name, religion, and culture.

4. Leigh – The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

Leigh’s character is one that has resonated with me since I first read this book back in 2019. Through Leigh, readers can experience the processes of grief and the differences in the perception of death and the loss of loved ones. Her strength and growth are qualities that have stayed with me even years later, and I try to embody them myself.

Vanshikha Vij, Pine Reads Review Writer