The Conception of Asian YA

As part of the new site launching here on WordPress, I wanted to take a moment to briefly talk about why and how Asian YA came to be.

First and foremost, the mission statement for Asian YA is as follows:

Welcome to Asian YA, a place that aims to showcase the multitude of YA books that celebrate the authentic and glorious portrayal of teens. We strive to shine a spotlight on both the underrated and well-deserved, in hopes that we will help to satisfy that yearning we all feel to find ourselves in literature.

If you’re anything like me, or any number of readers/bloggers who are in school, exam stress gets to you and procrastination can be your best friend. Exams usually meant I would binge and stress read books in an effort to pretend my impeding doom didn’t exist, not a very practical coping mechanism but one that brought about this wonderful place so I say it’s a win-win situation.

At the time I’d been looking into finding and reading more Asian American stories in YA, particularly Japanese-American stories that were not about World War II. Being Japanese-American, I’d grown up with the likes of Cynthia Kadohata and Yoshiko Uchida, who wrote some heart-wrenching stories about being Japanese-American in a place that openly despised who they represented. They were powerful stories but I also wanted to see books that were not painful to read and were fluffy contemporaries and dramatic adventures and not just rooted in the hardships.

This concept isn’t anything novel, many POC blogger/readers on Twitter have discussed this issue as well as other issues specifically to do with Asian rep in YA. Ambigious rep, where a character is only briefly mentioned as Asian, but no specifics, is not proper rep for Asian readers. Orientalism and “exotic” descriptions are not uncommon either. The lack of nuanced rep as well as the glorifying of books that do feature Asian characters but are often terrible rep and written by non-Asian authors. There were so many issues that I encountered again and again. Being East-Asian (specifically Japanese-American), I was privileged in that I found more books than most that featured my culture but only a handful could be considered well-written rep.

Along with the frustration in finding great Asian YA/MG/etc. books, there was also the frustration of going on Tumblr and seeing edits and graphics for Asian books I’d enjoyed, only to see ethnicities interchanged, as if to cement the concept that Asians are all the same. It wasn’t particularly shocking, especially when popular media (see: Hollywood lol) were all too eager to cast anyone other than someone representative of the actual character.

Around this time when I was looking for better written Asian books and more Asian authors, I found myself searching for a dedicated resource. I still remember the disappointment I felt when I stumbled on the We Need Diverse Book’s Where To Find Diverse Books page, only to find that there was no website for Asian/Asian-American representation in books. (Please note this is not a diss at WNDB, they are an amazing organization.) It was something that saddened me and the fact lingered in my head. A Google search revealed the same results as I realized that aside from blog posts dedicated to Asian American authors/books, there was no one resource. As a side note, if you are aware of such a website, please feel free to let me know because I would be delighted.

Thus sparked the first embers of an idea, if I can’t find such a website, why not make one of my own? After toying with this idea for a few days and sharing with a few close friends of mine (you know who you are <3) who encouraged and supported me thoroughly, I decided to get to work.

Insert some boring tedious days and weeks where I snuck in hours of Goodreads searching etc. very non-glamorous research as I compiled an initial list. When I finally launched Asian YA on Tumblr, it was met warmly and I was content, although I soon realized there are quite a few limitations with Tumblr for my purposes.

I began working on the WordPress version a month ago, in hopes that it would make it more accessible and cleaner to use and maintain. I will say that it is much easier to add new books to the list, and I do appreciate the ability to have uniformly updated posts, although I am working towards eventually upgrading this to a self-hosted service when I have the luxury to do so, complete with fancy features and a whole team to help run this site. Being the protective and clingy person that I am though, the idea of asking people to join this site is quite daunting.

I did want to take a moment to mention Shenwei, one of my dear friends who is brilliant and so dedicated as a contributor/co-blogger for Asian YA. They have helped to add so many titles to the masterlist, researching and going above and beyond in general when it comes to helping with this site. If you’ve read this, you should most definitely visit their blog, as well as the Taiwanese authors/books list they have created on their blog.

Finally, as I write this a few days after the new Asian YA launched, I can only say I am delighted and overwhelmed by the positive response this site has generated. The website is nowhere complete as I find new titles every day, both through reader suggestion and research, but I hope that this site will at least help in highlighting how vast and rich Asian cultures really are and connect readers to books where they will see themselves represented.

Feel free to look around the different categories of the masterlist and if you’re so inclined following this blog would mean a lot. I’m usually found on Twitter gushing over the latest books, and as a last note, contributions through either suggestions to the masterlist or donations to my ko-fi would be wonderful.

All the love,