A couple of years ago, I read Christina Lauren’s Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating. A few chapters in, I was shocked to find that Josh’s last name was "Im." A Korean American hero in a popular, mainstream romance novel set in the contemporary US? Outside of Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, I had never read about an East Asian main character in a fictional book that wasn’t focused on race or immigration or history. I set the book aside because the concept of someone like me as the romantic lead was too foreign and out of place. I was used to seeing Asians as the nerd, as the main character’s best friend, as the kung fu master — all of that seemed “normal." But not as a love interest.
Maybe that’s my fault for not actively seeking diverse books. Or maybe it is a sign that diversity in books isn’t prevalent enough for casual readers or even avid readers like me who hadn’t thought to search out diversity specifically.
I eventually got over my surprise, loving how normal Lauren treated Josh, his family, and his relationship with Hazel. His race was simply part of the story — not performative, not ignored. It sounds ridiculous, but it gave me hope. It gave me hope when I wrote my debut book, Give Love a Chai, that my Chinese American female hero or my very Chinese-sounding name wouldn’t be a turnoff to readers. It gave me hope of seeing more characters like me at the center of stories, not as side characters; that people who looked like me or had experiences like mine could be worthy of stories.
In recent months, with the rise in hate crimes against Asians — whether driven by reactions to the coronavirus pandemic or by the normalization of open racism — it becomes extra important to be an ally. Being an ally can be as simple as checking on your Asian friends or reading a book written by an Asian author.
Below, you'll find some books that you can try.