Writers of the South Asian diaspora, including Jhumpa Lahiri, Khaled Hosseini, Mohsin Hamid and Salman Rushdie, have tenderly explored South Asian culture and consciousness in their work. Several young adult authors have crafted equally rich and compelling novels about South Asian teenagers, whose cares, conflicts, friendships and dreams are influenced by their ties to the subcontinent. These novels go beyond South Asian stereotypes to capture how culture impacts character and community, how humor and grace build bridges of understanding and how no one’s parents understand what they’re going through—no matter where they hail from.
With universal themes, these eight novels will enthrall any reader who wonders how a person’s heritage shapes her identity:
1. Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Abdel-Fattah tells the story of 16-year-old Amal, who doesn’t care what people think when she starts wearing her hijab full-time. In this touching, hilarious novel, Amal realizes that no one’s acceptance of her faith matters more than her own.
2. American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar
Akhtar’s novel features a sweet, sensitive character in Hayat Shah. A Pakistani teen living in Wisconsin, Hayat finds his anxiety over his parents’ constant fighting lightened by the arrival of his mother’s best friend Mina, who encourages his interest in studying the Quran.
3. Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos
In Budhos’ Ask Me No Questions, 14-year-old Muslim Bangladeshi Nadira lives with her family in New York on an expired visa. After 9/11, fear and suspicion of terrorism threaten to derail her dreams and split her family apart.
4. Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier
New Jersey teen Dimple Lala is the protagonist of Tanuja Desai Hidier’s novel, which explores the growing pains of adolescence. Dimple searches for a balance between her interest in photography, her desire to fit in with her white American friends and life with her Indian parents.
5. Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim
Karim’s novel tells the story of 16-year-old Nina Khan, who lives in upstate New York with her Muslim Pakistani parents and her genius older sister. Things get a little “hairy” when she falls for a new boy at school.
6. Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins
Fifteen-year-old Chiko is forced to join the Burmese government’s military in a modern-day ethnic war. Perkins authentically captures the political climate of the war-torn country as well as the deep friendship between two boys on opposing sides.
7. Blue Boy by Rakesh Satyal
In Satyal’s Blue Boy, 12-year-old Kiran Sharma doesn’t fit in with the other Indian boys he knows in Cincinnati. He loves putting on his mother’s make-up, playing with dolls and practicing ballet. But things start to look up when he realizes that his destiny lies not in normalcy, but in the tenth reincarnation of the Hindu god Krishnaji.
8. Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman
During World War II, 15-year-old Vidya moves with her Indian family to her grandparents’ traditional household in Madras. After Vidya discovers her grandfather’s library, her desire for independence mirrors her country’s struggle under colonial British rule.