Going beyond tallying the number of books with inclusive content, it is critical that we consider how certain groups are portrayed when they do appear. How often is a black girl the lead in a lighthearted romance? How often are Native characters professional, suburban, middle-class people? These gaps speak powerfully to deeply embedded limitations in our imaginations, with those who are unaccustomed to thinking about race and representation possibly never consciously grappling with these omissions.
When it comes to stereotypes of Asian Americans, it is still unfortunately common to encounter the conformist, conventionally overachieving type. Nothing could be more at odds with the spirit of adventure, exploration, and throwing off the shackles of the mundane that is integral to the fantasy world. Yes, Orientalist tropes creep into fantasies by white authors, but those are not depictions likely to resonate with young readers of Asian descent (apart from the fact that the “Asian” cultures in these stories are frequently presented as backward and inferior).
This spring and summer see the release of a cluster of #ownvoices fantasies infused with Asian elements. I do not want to label this a trend, as I hope it is a sign of the new normal that will open the floodgates to fantasies drawing upon other underrepresented cultural backgrounds, further decolonizing young people’s imaginations.
Descendant of the Crane by Joan He (April 2) is an intricate and original fantasy that is an ideal read for those who appreciate the twists and turns of courtly intrigue, set in a world inspired by the Chinese stories the author grew up with.
In a multicultural South Asian city once attacked by djinn, a diverse array of humans lives peacefully together. The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad (May 14) is a lush, richly textured debut novel for readers who enjoy descriptive storytelling.
Those who like action-packed page-turners should pick up Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon by Mary Fan (June 11), a dramatic, Chinese-inspired fantasy in which the heroine embarks on a dangerous quest to recover a valuable pearl.
Wicked Fox by debut novelist Kat Cho (June 25) centers on a gumiho, a nine-tailed fox character popular in Korean folklore. An element of romance adds sweetness to this story of a teen who must kill to survive—but tries to do so mercifully.
With an East Asian setting, Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim (July 9) follows a young woman who must complete a series of daunting tasks while disguised as a boy as she pushes back against gender limitations in palace culture.
Still missing are fantasies with Southeast Asian settings, especially important given that historical fiction about the Vietnam War forms the bulk of what is typically published about this region, and we’re missing out on some incredible stories.
Laura Simeon is the young adult editor.