• Emily Cheng

Quarantine Reading List

Updated: May 13

As we barrel through another week of battling through the unknown, I have created a list of pandemic reads for those looking to have a temporary mental escape from the alarming headlines and convoluted political responses. Late last year, I made it a goal to read more books written by Asian authors. I have provided summaries from Goodreads and a short review. Follow me on Goodreads if you find my list helpful!

The books are being linked to Bookshop which is an alternative to Amazon. It works just like Amazon, but you’ll be supporting your local bookstores in this time of need.

Enjoy and happy reading!

April 28, 2020

Young Adult Fiction

1) Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen

Summary: When eighteen-year-old Ever Wong’s parents send her from Ohio to Taiwan to study Mandarin for the summer, she finds herself thrust among the very over-achieving kids her parents have always wanted her to be, including Rick Woo, the Yale-bound prodigy profiled in the Chinese newspapers since they were nine—and her parents’ yardstick for her never-measuring-up life.


Unbeknownst to her parents, however, the program is actually an infamous teen meet-market nicknamed Loveboat, where the kids are more into clubbing than calligraphy and drinking snake-blood sake than touring sacred shrines.


Free for the first time, Ever sets out to break all her parents’ uber-strict rules—but how far can she go before she breaks her own heart?

Review: I’ll have to be honest, I haven’t read this book yet but it’s my next book on my list especially since Rock the Boat is releasing their interview with Abigail Hing Wen tomorrow!

2) American Panda by Gloria Chao

Summary: At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents' master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.


With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can't bring herself to tell them the truth--that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.


But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

Review: If you grew up in a predominantly traditional Chinese family, you’ll resonate so well with this. The main character, Mei reminded me so much of my experience growing up. In fact, the cultural aspects in this book were so realistic and made me delirious at times because I was reading it when I was living at home with my mother, who resembles Mia’s mom to a T. You’ll find yourself wanting to cheer on Mei as she chases her dreams in this light and easy read.

Adult Fiction

3) Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Summary: In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.


Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.


When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town--and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia's past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Review: If you haven’t read this yet, you NEED to run (virtually) to get this book. It was such an engrossing page-turner – each character intertwining to create a powerful story based on secrets and privilege. I feel like enough time has passed and would definitely gladly welcome the desire to read it again - especially since I would love the opportunity to compare the book to the Hulu series starring Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon.

4) The Sympathizer: A Novel by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Summary: It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong. The Sympathizer is the story of this captain: a man brought up by an absent French father and a poor Vietnamese mother, a man who went to university in America, but returned to Vietnam to fight for the Communist cause. A gripping spy novel, an astute exploration of extreme politics, and a moving love story, The Sympathizer explores a life between two worlds and examines the legacy of the Vietnam War in literature, film, and the wars we fight today.

Review: At first, this was a very slow and hard read for me but I pushed through it because I knew it had won a Pulitzer Prize. Written from a spy’s point of view, the book is primarily based on the Vietnam War and its aftermath. It highlights the conflict between Americans and Vietnamese people, allowing us to think outside the box and rethink the hard/soft power between the two groups. The book will take time to read but you will not regret the cultural history gained from the book.

5) On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Summary: On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family's history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one's own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.


With stunning urgency and grace, Ocean Vuong writes of people caught between disparate worlds, and asks how we heal and rescue one another without forsaking who we are. The question of how to survive, and how to make of it a kind of joy, powers the most important debut novel of many years.

Review: I bought this book because of the intriguing title – and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a letter written by the main character, Little Dog, to his mother who cannot read. The book takes the reader into his raw and vivid exploration of family, race, privilege, and masculinity. It is a book that will make you self-reflect on how we can help others without losing your true sense of self.

Adult Nonfiction

6) All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir by Nicole Chung

Summary: What does it mean to lose your roots—within your culture, within your family—and what happens when you find them?


Nicole Chung was born severely premature, placed for adoption by her Korean parents, and raised by a white family in a sheltered Oregon town. From early childhood, she heard the story of her adoption as a comforting, prepackaged myth. She believed that her biological parents had made the ultimate sacrifice in the hopes of giving her a better life; that forever feeling slightly out of place was simply her fate as a transracial adoptee. But as she grew up—facing prejudice her adoptive family couldn’t see, finding her identity as an Asian American and a writer, becoming ever more curious about where she came from—she wondered if the story she’d been told was the whole truth.


With warmth, candor, and startling insight, Chung tells of her search for the people who gave her up, which coincided with the birth of her own child. All You Can Ever Know is a profound, moving chronicle of surprising connections and the repercussions of unearthing painful family secrets—vital reading for anyone who has ever struggled to figure out where they belong.

Review: Nicole has somehow combined the multi-faceted complications of adoption and race in a very eloquent way. Throughout the book, I felt like Nicole was talking to me about the nuances of transracial adoption in my own apartment. She shared her raw and vulnerable experiences of racism and isolation growing up. Although I am not an adoptee, I grew up in a very predominantly white neighborhood and always felt like I needed to fit in. It took me years to become proud and confident of my racial identity, which is something that Nicole empathically touches on in her memoir.

7) Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong

Summary: Asian Americans inhabit a purgatorial status: neither white enough nor black enough, unmentioned in most conversations about racial identity. In the popular imagination, Asian Americans are all high-achieving professionals. But in reality, this is the most economically divided group in the country, a tenuous alliance of people with roots from South Asia to East Asia to the Pacific Islands, from tech millionaires to service industry laborers. How do we speak honestly about the Asian American condition—if such a thing exists?


Poet and essayist Cathy Park Hong fearlessly and provocatively confronts this thorny subject, blending memoir, cultural criticism, and history to expose the truth of racialized consciousness in America. Binding these essays together is Hong's theory of "minor feelings." As the daughter of Korean immigrants, Cathy Park Hong grew up steeped in shame, suspicion, and melancholy. She would later understand that these "minor feelings" occur when American optimism contradicts your own reality—when you believe the lies you're told about your own racial identity.


With sly humor and a poet's searching mind, Hong uses her own story as a portal into a deeper examination of racial consciousness in America today. This intimate and devastating book traces her relationship to the English language, to shame and depression, to poetry and artmaking, and to family and female friendship. A radically honest work of art, Minor Feelings forms a portrait of one Asian American psyche—and of a writer's search to both uncover and speak the truth.

Review: If there was a way to figure out how to meet Cathy Park Hong, In this book, Hong asks us to really sit down and delve into essays developed around the Asian American identity. The book serves as a way for Asians to think about the effects of trauma and racism that we consistently face by being labeled as the “model minority” which leads to her theory of “minor feelings”. These feelings occur when Asian Americans succumb to submissiveness eventually experiencing a form of gaslighting. This is a book that will ignite self-exploration and inspire AAPIs to dissipate and dismantle the model minority myth. Hong reiterates that being a model minority allows for perpetual marginalization and marginalization allows consistent denial of bias.


Share with us the books you’ve been reading in the comments!



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Rock The Boat is a podcast elevating the stories of Asian leaders, founders, and pioneers in their fields. Through candid and thoughtful conversation, the host Lucia Liu uncover stories of their upbringing, Asian identity, and the movements they've built. 

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