Recently, I came across a really great post by YourTitaKate, who recommended seven underrated books by Asian authors on her blog. Kate also added in her post the link to another blogger, Michelle (Magical Reads) and her post on what underrated book means, booktwt’s view on underrated books, and vice versa. I’m linking the post here as well so you can check it out yourself.
Anyway, Kate’s recommendation post on underrated books inspired me to do one myself, since thanks to participating in Year of the Asian Reading Challenge last year, I came across several gems who are so underrated that they barely got 500 reviews on GoodReads. So I decided to do a post of my own, featuring books that:
•I’ve read and reviewed
•have less than 500 reviews on GoodReads
•by Asian authors (since May is the AAPI Heritage Month)
•in the young adult category
•were released in the last five years
So without further ado, here are the 7 criminally underrated books by Asian authors I’d recommend.
01. RISE OF THE RED HAND by Olivia Chadha
RISE OF THE RED HANDS is a YA cli-fi by author Olivia Chadha, set in a cyberpunk dystopian South Asian Province split into two, the privileged Uplanders who live inside a climate-controlled biodome, while the poor, underprivileged Downlanders live in a slum outside where they fight for survival in every step of the way. Our protagonist, Ashiva, works with the underground rebel group, Lal Haath, aka Red Hand, who is fighting to expose the nasty corruption of the South Asian Province’s technocratic government to the world.
ROTRH is such an underrated gem. The premise presents a gritty, grim image of the future, including human corruption despite climate collapse, as well as the scraps of humanity you can find in the most unexpected places. I’d heartily recommend this underappreciated book that came out earlier this year.
02. PRIVATE LESSONS by Cynthia Salaysay
This is one of the best books about sexual assaults I’ve read so far. The poignant way the author shows us Claire’s journey is really touching. At seventeen, she’s lost her father and lives with her religious mother in San Francisco. An aspiring pianist, she begins to take lessons from a famous pianist famous for his charms and talents, as well as notorious for his strict, stern ways of teaching. Expect to find an illicit teacher-student that no way romanticizes this kind of thing, rather shows you a harrowing portrait of sexual abuse and grooming that is perfect for the current #MeToo movement. The journey from naïvety to self-realization to recovery to finding your voice and confronting your abuser, this is a very emotional book that doesn’t include any melodramatic moments, yet can being tears to your eyes both from the steak, harrowing reality and the powerful message it sends.
03. REBEL SEOUL by Axie Oh
Another cli-fi in this list, this book is less gritty and grim, more full of giant mecha reminiscent of Pacific Rim but minus the Kaiju. Set in a futuristic Neo Seoul, this is the story of Lee Jaewon, a teenager who escaped brutal street gangs to enter a military sponsored weapons project. One of the most action packed sci-fi I’ve read so far and enjoyed every moment of it. From k-drama style teen romance to Pacific Rim style action sequences, this book has it all. But don’t be fooled by these descriptions that it’s all romance and actions. This book also features the corrupt government you’ll find in RISE OF THE RED HAND, as well as how far they can go to spread propaganda and suppress the truth.
04. THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE WORLD by London Shah
I was lucky enough to read one of the earliest draft of this mesmerizing book. Another cli-fi on the list (I guess cli-fi genre is totally my thing ;)), this one is set not on the aboveground but at the bottom of the oceans. The world has experienced a devastating catastrophe that rose the sea level and drowned every city on the planet. People now live underwater and travel via submarines and submersibles. Layla McQueen is a Afghan-British teen submersible racer who enlists herself into a submersible race to free her father from wrongful imprisonment. Throughout the book, you’ll encounter a brooding love interest, a butler who takes after Oscar Wilde (you heard me!) and an adorable, fluffy pup, Jojo. The setting is dazzlingly pretty and the worldbuilding is stunning. The cover can tell you enough.
05. THE SURPRISING POWER OF A GOOD DUMPLING by Wai Chim
This book is such a heartbreaker. But then again, so are all the great books that deftly capture reality. And the reality for mentally ill people are often full of pain and suffering, not just due to the fact that mental illness is unfairly misunderstood and villainized, also because rarely do mentally ill people get a realistic portrayal of their experiences. This book is full of raw, painful moments, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain many moments of joy and peace. Although our protagonist, Anna, doesn’t have mental illness, rather it’s her mother, the portrayal doesn’t become incorrect. Through this story, the author shows us the struggles of mental illness but also the struggles of immigrant life. The racism, the way mental illness is a touchy subject among Asians, the way people mock and bully mentally ill people. Every scene here is poignant and moving. A must read 100%.
06. MAD, BAD AND DANGEROUS TO KNOW by Samira Ahmed
The word HIStory itself says enough. History is about and by men. Rarely does history tells us about female figures. Up until the 20th century, women had almost no presence in history, unless they were empresses and queens, like queen Elizabeth I, queen Victoria, or Catherine the Great. And often famous historical female figures were white women, as I mentioned above. Women of color rarely get any mention, let alone praise. No matter their contribution to society or country, they’re either erased or villainized. In MAD, BAD AND DANGEROUS TO KNOW, Samira Ahmed tells us the story of a fictional young woman of color who inspired many well-known figures in history yet remained unnamed and in the shadows, thus telling us about the hidden figures of history, the women who got pushed either to the margins or completely erased, even their contributions hijacked. Our protagonist, a Muslim French-Indian-American teen, who goes on a journey to unravel one such figure erased from history by the men in her life.
07. IGNITE THE STARS by Maura Milan
Another sci-fi in the bunch, but this time far into the future and into the space. Our protagonist is Is Cōcha, a criminal mastermind and daredevil pilot who has been attacking and terrorizing the Olympus Commonwealth, the futuristic space equivalent of the British Empire. After she is captured via blackmail, she is forcefully enrolled in a military academy run by the Commonwealth, to show the rest of the universe they’ve suppressed the biggest revel out there. However, things don’t go as they plan out for Ia Cōcha, who continues her rebellion throughout her stay in the academy.
So that’s the 7 criminally underrated YA books by Asian authors that I recommend. Do you know any such underrated gems that has less than 500 reviews of GoodReads and think more people should read it? Let me know in the comment section below.