I’m biracial and polite to a fault, so I’ve had the “what are you?” conversation a lot. It’s when someone asks me (overtly or subtly, rudely or nicely) what my racial background is. I’ve had these conversations with strangers at bus stops, at baby showers, at public pools, at my first job, and at my current job. I’ve had them with catcallers and baristas and teachers and an OB-GYN. Occasionally, the conversations were uncomfortable. But most of the time, they weren’t. I’m half Japanese and half white, and I like talking about my background.
Being asked “what are you?” so much made me realize that while I’m often recognized as mixed, I’m not always recognized as Asian. This has hit me in different ways at different times. When I was little and wanted to look more like my Japanese mom, it felt sad. When I learned the word “hapa” while visiting my grandparents in Hawai’i, it felt special. When anti-Asian racism and hate crimes skyrocketed this past year, but I didn’t have to worry for my own personal safety, it felt complicated and unfair. Mostly, my feelings about my biracial identity have come in phases, shifting over time and circumstances, sometimes in the background and sometimes in the forefront of my mind. These feelings helped shape my debut YA novel, The Other Side of Perfect. Alina’s understanding of her biracial background is one among many shifts she goes through.
There are an endless number of ways biracial and multiracial people experience and understand their racial and cultural identities as they live their utterly individual lives. Books starring biracial and multiracial characters written by biracial and multiracial authors help show some of that diversity.
Below are 15 books that explore what it means to be biracial or multiracial:
by Helen Hoang
If you’re a fan of romance and haven’t read Helen Hoang yet, I humbly suggest you do so immediately. This story features Khai, who believes he’s incapable of feeling love, and Esmé, who wants a better life for herself and her daughter. Khai’s mother is determined to find him a match, so when she meets Esmé in Vietnam by chance, she offers to send her to the US to marry her son. Khai’s quiet, serious personality and Esmé’s talkative, bubbly one clash at first. Also, Khai’s autism as well as the death of his best friend 10 years prior make him reluctant to get too close to Esmé. But sparks soon fly, and Hoang writes sparks incredibly well. Esmé is half Vietnamese and half white, and she’s always felt out of place. The way she gradually grows to love and value herself and stand up for what she deserves is super satisfying, as is her love story with Khai.
by Naima Coster
Coster’s compelling debut novel is told in alternating perspectives between estranged mother and daughter. Penelope, an art school dropout, moves back to her gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood to take care of her father, but nothing is familiar there anymore. Further complicating Penelope’s homecoming is a postcard from her mother, Mirella, who left the family to return to the Dominican Republic, and who now wants to reconnect. Penelope is Dominican and Black, and her story along with Mirella’s display the two women’s dreams, flaws, histories, and potential reconciliation in engrossing, empathetic, and unexpected ways. Coster’s novel also beautifully delivers insights into art and artists, fractured family dynamics, and disappearing neighborhoods.
by Diana Evans
The opening of Diana Evans’ debut novel describes — in rich, dreamy prose — the brutal process of Georgia and Bessi’s birth from their own perspective. It sets the tone for this mythical, incisive, gut-wrenching story about the half-British, half-Nigerian twins who live in a London suburb with their alcoholic father and homesick mother, but who share a private world all their own. Georgia and Bessi are intimately and eternally linked, but differences in personality — as well as a horrifying experience — put them on vastly different paths. Evans mixes humor, fantasy, and brutality into this story about family, depression, shattered innocence, death, and the deep bonds of twinhood.
by Louise Erdrich
Erdrich’s multifaceted, multigenerational story takes place in a small North Dakota town and is told by three narrators: Evelina (part Ojibwe, part white), her Ojibwe grandfather Moonshum, and Antone Coutts, a tribal judge. Their distinct voices tell the story of the unresolved murder of a white family in 1911, the baby who was the sole survivor, the lynching of Native Americans that followed, and the lasting impact the violence has on the town’s residents. This book goes backward and forward in time, slowly unravelling the mystery of the murder, but also revealing how the lives, choices, and desires of present-day multiracial characters are influenced by the past.
by Jenny Han
Lara Jean Song Covey: hopeless romantic, stress-baker, legend. Jenny Han’s three-book series featuring Lara Jean’s complicated love life is now a series of ultra-popular Netflix films, and this is the book that started it all. In it, Lara Jean pens heartfelt letters to every boy she’s ever loved (five in total). She never intends to send them, but they get sent, resulting in chaos, fake-dating, and first love. Lara Jean is half Korean, half white, and while her Korean American mother died before the series begins, her father tries to keep Lara Jean and her two sisters in touch with their Korean side. It’s a wonderful example of a high-concept premise delivered in a cozy, character-driven way.
by Emery Lee
If you love rom-coms that complicate rom-com tropes, Emery Lee’s debut novel is for you. It’s about Noah, the transgender creator of a popular blog that features descriptions of romantic first meetings (“meet cutes”) between trans people who end up dating happily ever after. The blog is a source of love and hope for its thousands of readers, but no one knows that Noah writes all the posts himself. Enter an internet troll who accuses Noah’s blog of being phony and a rom-com-worthy boy named Drew who offers to fake date Noah to save the blog. Noah’s feelings for Drew become real, but does being rom-com-worthy mean being the right guy? Noah is Japanese, Afro-Caribbean, and white. He’s also rich, complex, and imperfect, like the best rom-com MCs.
by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Who doesn’t love a good story about a girl who runs away to join the circus? Harley Milano dreams of being a trapeze artist and plans to apprentice at the famous Las Vegas circus her parents run. But they want Harley to go to college instead. So Harley joins a rival circus, where she works on her craft and tries to figure out where she belongs while grappling with her own tumultuous emotions. Bowman’s entertaining, atmospheric story features romance with a mysterious violinist, honest discussions about mental health, and engaging reflections about Harley’s multiracial identity (her mother is Chinese and Irish; her father is Japanese and Italian). Plus, Harley is just my favorite kind of heroine: ambitious, messy, and imperfect.
by Alechia Dow
Sci-fi, dystopia, and romance combine in Alechia Dow’s breathtaking debut novel about an Earth overtaken by aliens called Ilori who ban books, music, and art. The two central characters are Ellie, a mixed-race girl who runs an illegal library, and M0Rr1S (aka Morris), an Ilori who falls in love with music and Ellie. To save humanity, Ellie and M0Rr1S undertake a harrowing, bleak, romantic, joyful road trip across the US. Ellie is demisexual, and her growing relationship with M0Rr1s is beautifully rendered. And although Ellie’s world and its dangers have changed immensely since the Ilori invasion, her incisive reflections on race, prejudice, and anti-Blackness weave in and out of the narrative. A unique, hopeful, and affirming story.
by Ibi Zoboi
As a Jane Austen superfan who has read stacks upon stacks of Pride and Prejudice adaptations, retellings, and homages, I’m claiming the authority to say this “remix” is amazing. Dominican Haitian Zuri is a poet living with her big, charming family in a gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood. When the wealthy Darcys move in across the street, Zuri sees them as part of the unwelcome changes happening to the home she’s protective and proud of. She reserves a special dislike for snobby, judgmental Darius Darcy. Shifting feelings and a slow-burn romance ensue, alongside some beautiful poetry, sisterly shenanigans, social satire, and insightful explorations of race and class.
10. Color Me In
by Natasha Díaz
Nevaeh is half Jewish and half Black, but she doesn’t think much about her biracial or cultural identity until her parents separate and Nevaeh goes to live with her mother’s side of the family in Harlem. There, white-passing Nevaeh — seen by her cousin as too privileged to understand the experiences of her Black, Baptist relatives — feels out of place. She also doesn’t fit in at her new wealthy private school, and things are only going to get worse when she has her delayed bat-mitzvah celebration in lieu of a sweet 16. As Nevaeh explores race and religion — and her own privileges — she learns to own her multifaceted identity. I love how thoughtful, complex, difficult, and joyful Nevaeh’s journey of self-discovery is. I also love the sweet romance and Nevaeh’s poetry interspersed throughout the book.
by Celia C. Pérez
Malú is a skateboarding, punk-rock loving, zine-making half-Mexican, half-white girl. She’s also the new kid at school when she moves to Chicago with her Mexican American mom, where Malú finds that her new classmates don’t think she’s Mexican enough. But the first rule of punk is to be yourself, so Malú learns to stand up for herself and her right to rock out while also embracing her Mexican culture. One of my favorite parts about this Pura Belpré honor book is the pages from Malú’s zines interspersed between chapters, which provide a window into her artistic imagination and creativity. This one is thoughtful, funny, and fun.
by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Biracial seventh-grader Donte Ellison is bullied by students and criminalized by authorities at his predominantly white prep school. None of this happens to his older brother, Trey, who presents as white. After Donte is framed by a racist bully who is captain of the fencing team (and subsequently arrested), Donte plans to make everyone see him for who he is by training for a spot on the team with the help of new friends and a Black national fencing champion. In this story of self-discovery, Rhodes paints a powerful portrait of a biracial boy while also examining privilege, colorism, and the school-to-prison pipeline.
13. What Lane?
by Torrey Maldonado
Stephen, a half-Black, half-white sixth-grader in NYC, doesn’t want to have “a lane.” He wants to be in every lane. He wants to like any kind of movie, have all kinds of friends, and just be himself. But people — from strangers to the superintendent of his apartment building — treat Stephen differently than his white best friend, Dan. Then Dan’s cousin Chad starts bullying Stephen, and Stephen is encouraged by Wes, a Black classmate, to hang out more with the Black and brown kids in school. Stephen wonders if he has to stick to one lane after all. Afro-Latinx author Maldonado is an expert at writing complex, empathetic, and authentic coming-of-age stories about boyhood and race. This one includes discussions of the Black Lives Matter movement, racial profiling, privilege, and allyship.
by Uma Krishnaswami
This vivid historical fiction story stars 9-year-old Maria, whose father is from India and whose mother is from Mexico. She shares her mixed-race background with others in her community in 1945 Yuba City, California. Maria’s teacher is inspired by the All-American Girls’ Baseball League to start a girl’s softball team, and Maria is desperate to play. But not everyone in her family and community supports that idea, especially her Papi. As she stands up for her right to play ball, she also learns to fight laws that discriminate against immigrants. Maria is a strong, funny, endearing heroine, and Krishnaswami brings her world to life with vibrant detail.
by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita
As a new mom, this one made me cry. Aidan is about to become a big brother, and he wants to do everything he can to make the new baby feel loved, understood, and accepted. This is so important to Aidan — who everyone thought was a girl but who is really a boy — because he knows how it feels to not be understood. Aidan helps his parents choose clothes, nursery paint, and a name that will fit this new addition to the family, “no matter who they grew up to be.” Kyle Lukoff’s text lovingly affirms transgender kids and their families, and Kaylani Juanita’s warm, vibrant illustrations of biracial Aidan (Black and South Asian) and his home bring to life the loving world he so wishes to create for his new baby sibling.