Asian Lit Bingo


If you haven’t seen the #Asian Lit Bingo on Twitter, the general idea is this:asianlitbingo.png

Sadly I’m far too behind on EVERYTHING to participate–but I do have suggestions:

And though I’m aware May is nearly over,these great books are worth reading all year round:

East Asian MC:

Asian Refugee MC:unknown-12

Asian Immigrant MC:

Asian Muslim MC:

SFF with Asian MC:

Contemporary with Asian MC:

South Asian MC:

Non fiction Asian MC:51g6tg0eapl-_sx350_bo1204203200_

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The Pocket Guide to Being an Indian Girl


Indian girls only make the front page of the Dudley News if they’ve landed a role in an Indian flick, had a forced marriage or run away. I had apparently done the last.

In retrospect, the era when I came of age, bookended roughly by the Gurinder Chadha films Bhaji on the Beach (1993) and Bend it Like Beckham (2002) seems a vision of post-racial multicultural harmony. Cornershop’s Brimful of Asha even got to number one in the pop charts, a thing I’d never imagined possible watching TOTP during my 1970s childhood. But all that’s over now, shattered by Brexit.

The Pocket Guide to Being an Indian Girl by B.K. Mahal (2004, now out of print) came in on the end of the wave. I don’t think a book like this would be published today –it’s bawdy, funny, peppered with Punjabi slang and Bollywood in-jokes, the narrative  has odd changes of tone and a disjointed plot.

I loved it.

I loved our heroine Susham (Sushi), big sister Kully who’s about to get hitched to the scion of a Brummie Asian mafioso, little sister Kiz & her Bollywood dreams, and their put-upon mother. Their father has been sectioned for manic depression, absconds from hospital and hides out in Dudley allotments–but only Sushi seems to care.

I loved the way the book skewers stereotypes of Brit Asian culture: big weddings, overachieving children, food, romance and Bollywood, adds gritty reality (financial struggles, mental health issues, a patriarchal culture, never losing face ‘in the community’) and manages to be both very very funny and completely real. Yet, as far as I can tell, the author never wrote another YA book.

Diversity is having a ‘moment’ again  in kids and YA spurred on by the We Need Diverse Books non-profit in the U.S. Let’s hope it sticks around for good, this time. Teens 12+

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The Hate U Give


The Hate U Give has deservedly gathered a bundle of stunning reviews.  Thomas begins with a story every teenager can relate to: a party where things get out of hand. The cause of this (a fight which leads to gunshots being exchanged) leads to teenage Starr sensibly getting out of there fast, with an old  friend Khalil she hasn’t seen for a while. They get pulled over because of a broken tail light-what follows is a shocking plunge into the violence so much a part of Starr’s  existence.

Starr’s father is himself an ex-gang member who has served time and has sent her and her siblings to a private school in a better neighbourhood after another childhood friend was shot dead in a drive-by. But when Khalil is shot and killed by a policeman, the line Starr has drawn between her school life and home life begins to dissolve.

Despite Starr exposing herself and her family to scrutiny by testifying, she holds little hope that justice will be served–in the meantime tensions between rival gangs in the neighbourhood worsen and threaten to drag her father back to something he no longer wants any part of.

Starr has a great, dry, funny teen voice: the warmth of her home life and depiction of the dilemmas she faces make this book one any teen will relate to. Most of all, despite its length this is a very readable account of a too familiar tragedy, where every character feels truly real and alive. 14+



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Out of Heart



Out of Heart is a story about Adam, whose family home is an unhappy place of silence and secrets. Yasmin, his Mum, has escaped from an abusive relationship, his sister Farah doesn’t speak any more and Adam himself doodles and writes obsessively in his notebook rather than trying to talk to Laila, the girl he has a thing for. When his grandfather who lived with them chooses to donate his heart to a stranger and the stranger turns up at their door, everything begins to break apart.

William, the recipient of the donated heart has had a hard, lonely life and finds new meaning in the family that adopt him. But people in their neighbourhood disapprove and Adam’s estranged violent father begins to cause trouble. There are no easy answers in this book and Adam has to deal with more than anyone, young or old should have to deal with before he finds any.

This is a  painfully real account of one boy’s struggle with and against family and community in order to find his place in the world. The  urban setting and cultural  context of Adam’s Muslim faith are vividly and sympathetically brought to life in a way not often seen in UKYA. 12+


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Bird by Crystal Chan

Covers are tricky.

And though the UK (Tamarind) cover is perfectly beautiful and not one that screams ‘kid’s book! (if you care about that, obviously I don’t) it’s a little…boring?

The French cover (middle) is my favourite, the German cover on the left is the one that I suspect kids would go for .

Covers aside, the book is a graceful, meditative tale of a girl named Jewel, a family fractured by unspeakable grief, friendship and ultimately healing. Twelve year old Jewel is of  Jamaican and Mexican heritage, feels out of place in her small town and doesn’t seem to have a single friend to spend the summer with. Eugene/John is a trans-racial adoptee spending the summer with his white uncle. The two young people bond despite Jewel’s grandfather and family still mourning for her brother (nicknamed Bird though named John) who died in a tragic accident the day she was born.

Billed as 8-12, to me this book would be perfect for that in-between age 10-13.

Here is a Q&A with author Crystal Chan




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Where the Mountain Meets the Moon


A gorgeous fantasy quest, rich in Chinese folklore and told in simple, evocative language. Minli’s poor mother and father toil in the shadow of a barren mountain all day, her mother especially bemoaning their fate. Minli becomes determined to reverse their bad fortune. After an encounter with a talking fish and encouraged by her father’s stories, she sets out one day to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him to help. Along the way she encounters a flightless dragon, a King and a ferocious green tiger. The narrative of Minli’s journey is interspersed with tales that illuminate the back-story of these characters and the whole adds up beautifully to a story where Minli and her family realise what is truly important–each other. Beautifully illustrated by the multi-talented author herself, this would make a lovely class read or a wonderful gift for a child who likes fantasy and myth. I plan to read more of Grace Lin (Starry River of the Sky and When the Sea Turned to Silver are in the same vein and The Year of the Dog and sequels are tales about growing up as a Chinese-American kid which will resonate with many). A Newbery Honor winner. 8+

Here’s Grace Lin’s TedX talk on the windows and mirrors of your child’s bookshelf.


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Lowriders to the Centre of the Earth


I loved Lowriders in Space and Lowriders to the Centre of the Earth is even better, if that’s possible. The same wonderful team of Lupe Impala, Elirio Malaria and octopus (so cute he’s mistaken for a baby) El Chavo Flapjack are running their own garage.

The mysterious disappearance of their cat Genie leads the intrepid team with their souped-up lowrider all the way to the Underworld where they must outwit none other than Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec god of the Underworld, who is hoping for a cat skeleton to add to his creepy collection of calaveras. The pace is fast and punny (the coyote!) The drawings are lively, super detailed and  AMAZING-again using the three-colour biro art of the first books and the snippets of Spanish, Mexican culture and mythology are well-placed. Really, I don’t know of a kid between 6 and 16 that wouldn’t enjoy this. A must. 8+

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