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What do you want to see in books with an Asian American protagonist?

May 12, 2007

Here are some individual thoughts on what we’d each like to see in books with an Asian American protagonist.


A character who just happens to be Asian-American. Why does race always have to be the point of the book? I want to read about a character:

1. whose family has lived in America for more than two generations;

2. who is not discriminated against or bullied because of their race;

3. who is not ashamed of their heritage/culture;

4. whose purpose in the book is not to “discover” their heritage in order to impress someone or by traveling to the mother country;

5. whose parents do not oppose them dating a haole(white) guy, or a Chinese girl, or basically anyone whose family was originally from another country. Don’t Asian-Americans have the highest rate of interracial marriage in the country?

It’s hard enough finding a book that meets just one of these points. How long will I have to wait for a majority of books meet all five?

Jolene would like to see:

a.) Who is not sexually stereotyped in these ways:
1.) Not repressed
2.) Would like to see more diversity in sexuality in Asian characters. Asian American authors rarely address homosexuality, bi-sexuality, or transgender in their protagonist’s development. (Only books I think of that express these ideas are Margaret Cho’s autobiographies.)
b.) Would like to see more Asian characters in a fantasy fiction genre(other than Kung-Fu Master or Samurai Master.) Where are the Asian fairies, vampires, werewolves, magicians, or witches?
c.) Would also like to see characters in typical teen stereotypes like: Punk, Headbanger, Goth, or even Country/cowboy-cowgirl. (Other than Asian characters trying to be All-American by joining the Cheerleading Squad or Sports team, or being a great musician.) I remember reading the “Pen Pals” series by Sharon Dennis Wyeth and one of the main characters was Asian, and she had an obsession with Joan Jett.

Gayle would like a protagonist:

1. Who uses cultural references without qualifying them;

2. Who feels comfortable in his/her skin, hair, eyes;

3. Who is not ashamed of his/her parents;

4. Has real character flaws and not only those of stereotypes;

5. Is a librarian or aspires to be a librarian.

So all you writers out there, we’ve made it easy for you with our laundry list. With that said, we’d better start working on own next great Asian American novel.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 21, 2007 12:54 am

    Love this list!

  2. May 21, 2007 3:59 am

    Yes! I am looking for those books too.

  3. May 21, 2007 6:15 am

    Oh! I need to find the Pen Pals book in which one of the main characters has an obsession with Joan Jett. As a teenager, Joan Jett was my hero, and I got to meet her a couple of times. I’m always tickled when she shows up in literature.

    Maybe I’m overly optimistic about my fellow human beings, but I really think that, by the time my daugher is reading comfortably (she’s 4 now), there will be a plethora of books in which multicultural main characters will be just “hanging out” as it were and not be cultural-issues books.

    I heart Ruby Lu.

  4. May 21, 2007 2:36 pm

    Thank you for the excellent lists! I hope to see those books, too, soon. Reminds me of the movie Saving Face, which isn’t for kids, really, but is still great.

  5. May 23, 2007 4:00 pm

    It’s funny what you remember and what you forget. I used to read those Pen Pals books Jolene mentioned, but totally forgot that there was an Asian-American character! The only thing I remember about Amy (I think that was her name) is that her father made his money importing toys or something, and that she had a brother named Alex who rode a motorcycle and shaved his head (who, as far as I can recall, only appeared in one book). I don’t remember a Joan Jett obsession at all! Need to see if I still have some of the books…

  6. May 25, 2007 5:15 am

    Yeah for this topic! It’s long bothered me that so many books featuring different ethnic protagonists in the US always go along the lines of: I’m trying to fit in, but my family is so ethnic and weird…

    Well, my kids are half Indian, and they enjoy their backgrounds and fit in just fine! That’s why I felt very strongly about writing novels featuring a biracial protagonist who doesn’t have her life full of drama cuz she has a different background than anyone else. I think my books definitely meet your criterion…and mine 🙂

  7. Jolene permalink*
    May 25, 2007 1:38 pm

    You know I’m not sure if it was Joan Jett or Pat Benatar. (Now that I think about it, it’s been years since I’ve read it.) But I’m pretty sure it was Joan Jett since Amy was described as wearing black all the time and having spikey hair, and having posters on her wall, she was sort of the rebel of the group. I finally found a picture on Amazon, hope the link works.


  1. 2 ways to get Trisha to read a book about an Asian-American « The YA YA YAs

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