Queer Asian books for celebration and solace
This year has already been a lot, particularly with recent rollbacks on liberties we thought were inalienable. While it is disheartening, this decision only reminds us that the society we live in is a loosely connected, dynamic thing. And as change is the only constant, recent decisions show that hope is a moral imperative we cannot lose.
It becomes all the more important to be there for one another.
Life is a multifaceted, rainbow phenomenon and to lose ourselves in a single shade of sorrow robs us of too many things. Because fighting for basic rights is exhausting, please find yourself some well-deserved solace in these books. Here are 6 queer Asian books we love, ranging from bright romances to musings on history to first love.
Flip the Script, Lyla Lee
There’s a certain rhythm to K-dramas. Boy meets girl and maybe there’s a love triangle. Then there’s ups and downs, twists, and then the ending. But what if instead, we flipped the script?
This delightful former friends to enemies to lovers story features girls falling in love, fake dating, and colorful scenes set in iconic Seoul locations. Bright and youthful while still having serious moments, Flip the Script is a scoop of teenage sapphic happiness.
Love in the Big City, Sang Young Park translated by Anton Hur
Love in the Big City follows the chaotic life of Young, a gay man in Seoul pinballing himself between Tinder dates. Young has a self awareness and dry sarcasm that make for interesting interactions whether with lovers, family, or friends. He’s messy but charming, quick to act and quick to fall in love.
This novel is gritty yet glittering, dark yet neon. It has been rightfully longlisted in this year’s International Booker Prize and features vibrant writing seeped in emotion and dark humor.
Beyond our world
Girls of Paper and Fire, Natasha Ngan
Content warning: sexual assault
The country Ikhara has been under the brutal rule of the Demon King for 200 years. Every year his court selects eight Paper Girls, human girls who serve as his royal concubines. But one year, there is a sudden ninth addition. And she does the unthinkable; fall in love with another Paper Girl. As the romance blossoms so does whispers of revolution and reclaiming power.
This intricate fantasy book explores the power of love and revenge is set in a lush Asian inspired world that pulls from all backgrounds in Asia, making for a setting that feels fresh yet familiar.
Additional recommendations in science fiction / fantasy: The Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao (mechas in medieval China following the female empress), Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta (dystopia, war, massive robots), The Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee (space odyssey featuring Korean folktale creatures)
If They Come for Us, Fatimah Asghar
Content warning: violence
If They Come for Us immerses readers in Asghar’s world pulled between countries, languages, and people. Asghar’s debut poetry collection merges stories of Partition, immigration, identity, and faith in a way that is both emotionally laden and clever.
There is delight in how they play with form. Within the collection there are poems that are upside down and written as a form of microagression bingo. And yet, regardless of the unconventional structure of a poem, its intensity does not let up.
Soft Science, Franny Choi
Choi’s poetry collection is just the one for those of us who operate in spaces of femininity as it explores the rich cadences of queer, Asian American female consciousness. This is just to flag, I wasn’t able to finish the entire book just yet. But this is largely because the poems I have been able to read left me sitting there, turning it over in my head, examining all its parts and putting it back together.
Instead of being about identity, Choi probes at the existential questions of finding oneself queer and Asian American in a landscape where science, violence, and technology interface with daily life. I highly recommend reading this in paper to hold and feel the book’s weight and experience the language, let it affect you.
Slip, Marika McCoola & Aatmaja Pandy
Content warning: themes of self-harm
A graphic novel with a soft pastel aesthetic, Slip follows the story of Jade at a student residency intensive as she attempts to get into art school. Alongside the familiar tensions that come with the stress of college admissions, McCoola weaves in personal stories of navigating love both in friendships and romance.
Slip is a relatively quick read for such heavy themes. The depth of the book and its attention to achingly raw emotional intensities honor the graphic novel genre.
Additional recommendation: Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American by Laura Gao
While our annual Pride celebrations inject joy into our exhausted lives, it’s nice to remember that we have books that light up our hearts late into the night year round. These books and many others are for all days of the year.
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