So this post was inspired by a Twitter thread I made about Noteworthy and the general lack of Asian boy love interests in contemporary YA. Thus, I’m doing a roundup of YA books with Asian boy love interests that I know of. I’m not including any books that have racist or fetishizing elements (so Eleanor & Park is out, not even sorry). I’m also excluding books that take place in Asia as it’s more or less a given that the love interest will be Asian. My primary focus is Asian boys in diaspora where the environment is majority white and Asian boys are not seen as attractive.
If you have any books to add, leave the title and author in the comments and I will add them to the list. My list is all U.S. books, so if you have any U.K., Canada, Australia, etc. books, submit them please! I couldn’t find any with Southeast Asian boys either, so if you know of one, drop a comment.
Note: Books are listed in alphabetical order by author’s last name. Links are to my reviews of the books. The ethnicity of the Asian boy love interest is indicated next to the title and author.
Tiny Pretty Things and Shiny Broken Pieces by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton – Korean American
Gigi, Bette, and June are three girls at a competitive ballet academy in Manhattan. Gigi dances despite a health problem that could ruin her. Bette struggles to live up to and surpass her legacy older sister. June hides an eating disorder and vows to take the lead spot to prove herself to her mother. With the stakes so high, the girls are willing to do anything to get to the top.
North of Beautiful by Justina Chen – Chinese American adoptee
Tess was born with a port-wine stain on her face that draws stares and looks of pity from people. She’s desperate to get out of her small town, away from her controlling father. A chance encounter brings cute goth boy Jacob into her life, and suddenly she’s on a different path than expected.
Adaptation and Inheritance by Malinda Lo – Chinese American
Reese and her debate team partner David wake up from a car accident, miraculously healed. All across the country, birds are falling from the sky, and people in hazmat suits are collecting them for some unknown purpose. Then, she meets the mysterious Amber Gray and discovers a shocking truth.
The Girl from Everywhere and The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig – Persian
Nix has spent her entire life aboard The Temptation, a ship that can travel through time and space, to real and fictional locations like, as long as there is a map for it. Her father captains this ship, and he is obsessed with finding a map for 1868 Honolulu, so he can reunite with Nix’s mother before she died. This quest takes them through danger and adventure, and if it is successful, it could potentially erase Nix from existence. (I realize this is sort-of-not-really contemporary but they do travel to 2016 so I’m counting it.)
Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier – Indian American
From Goodreads: Dimple Lala doesn’t know what to think. Her parents are from India, and she’s spent her whole life resisting their traditions. Then suddenly she gets to high school and everything Indian is trendy. To make matters worse, her parents arrange for her to meet a “suitable boy.” Of course it doesn’t go well — until Dimple goes to a club and finds him spinning a magical web . Suddenly the suitable boy is suitable because of his sheer unsuitability. Complications ensue.
Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia – Indian American
Reshma Kapoor, top ranked student of Alexander Graham Bell High School, will to get into Stanford. Not “wants to,” but “will.” Because she is willing to do anything to make it happen, even if it means bending or breaking the rules, and then some. For her “hook” to make herself stand out among the competition, she decides to write a young adult novel about a fictional version of herself. But the real Reshma Kapoor is a study nerd, without the appeal to the mainstream YA market. To make herself into the perfect YA protagonist, Reshma sets out to do “normal” teenage things and create a plot and character arc for herself. Unfortunately for her, things don’t always go as planned.
When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore – Pakistani American trans boy
From Goodreads: To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (coming May 30th) – Indian American
From Goodreads: Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?
The Fold by An Na – Korean American
When Joyce falls for school hottie John Ford Kang, she becomes obsessed with her appearance. She’s constantly compared to her older sister Helen, who is beautiful without trying. Then, her aunt offers her a gift: plastic surgery to get the coveted “double eye fold” that East Asians consider prettier. Joyce must decide whether this change is what she truly wants, or whether she can define her beauty on her own terms.
Noteworthy by Riley Redgate (coming May 2nd) – Japanese American
Jordan Sun is a scholarship student at the elite fine arts school, Kensington, and she’s desperate to get a role that will prove that she’s good enough to her parents. When her audition for the fall musical flops because her vocal range and texture aren’t “feminine” enough, she resorts to desperate measures: cross-dress as a guy and audition for the elite all-male a cappella group, the Sharpshooters, for a shot at the prestigious tour that will elevate her from nobody to the cream of the crop. It’s only for three months, so it can’t go wrong, can it?
Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed – Pakistani American
Naila tries to please her parents, who give her considerable freedom in many ways. However, she breaks one of their strict rules about dating and boys by falling for Saif. When her parents find out that she has been dating him in secret, they decide to take her to Pakistan to “reconnect” with their roots. Unfortunately, their plans for Naila also involve forcing her to marry a man she doesn’t know. Alone and desperate, Naila must find a way to escape this nightmare.
My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma (coming in 2017) – Indian American
From Goodreads: Metha, Bollywood film groupie, has a dilemma: her boyfriend breaks up with her one week before senior year and instead of running the Princeton, NJ student film festival with him, she has to compete against him for the spot. What’s worse is he realized hooking up with Jenny Dickens was a mistake and he wants Winnie back. Dev Khanna, indie film savant, could be her solution. He helps her focus on what’s important and makes her feel amazing in that terrifying, not-in-control way. At first, the plan to get her festival chair spot back and spend time with Dev seems to be working…until Winnie falls in love with the one guy who just may be the perfect hero she’s been waiting for. In a story where high school has more drama than the Indian film industry, one Bolly-junkie finds herself in a classic love triangle gone wrong. With a little bit of help from fate, her drunk grandmother, and dream sequences featuring Shah Rukh Khan himself, Winnie learn that embracing Bollywood romance IRL may be the key to a happily ever after.
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon – Korean American
Daniel is a dreamer on his way to a Yale interview that he doesn’t actually care about to please his Korean parents. Natasha is a science geek who is about to be deported to a Jamaica she barely remembers. The lives of these two teens who appear to have nothing in common collide, and both are changed in ways they never would have imagined during the course of a single day.