I am the neurodiverse, dark-skinned, genderfluid, first-born child of South Asian American immigrants.

I am also happy.

If you’re an avid reader, this last statement may surprise you. With trans rights, immigrant rights, BIPOC rights, and disabled rights under unprecedented attack these days, tales about trauma are more abundant—and more essential—than ever. But while these books are necessary, more often than not, their focus on oppression often renders them incomplete. As BIPOC author Nicola Yoon points out, “So many stories about people of color center around trauma and racism. While those are absolutely critical stories to tell in the never-ending struggle for equality, they are far from the whole story.”

David Yoon, Nicola Yoon’s fellow BIPOC author, business partner, and husband, adds, “People of color fall in love, goof around, make mistakes, experience heartbreak, and so on, all the time. And yet those stories don’t get told often enough. There’s a whole gamut of emotion that’s missing from the literary canon, and whenever we see a happily-ever-after for a POC protagonist, we practically stand up and cheer!”

Erasing the joy in BIPOC, LGBTQ+, neurodiverse, disabled, and otherwise marginalized characters’ lives flattens them into two-dimensional, half-formed caricatures of who they really are. The overall effect is to make these characters—and, by extension, people like me who resemble these characters—feel less human. And I, for one, am tired of proving my humanity.

The need to expand authentic representation of BIPOC lives inspired the Yoons to found Joy Revolution Books, a new imprint from Penguin Random House.

“The name is pretty on the nose,” David says. “The revolution is joy itself! Our logo, a heart protected by a shelter, is a signal to our readers that when they pick up a Joy Revolution book, they can look forward to being swept away by a great story that shows people of color using the full breadth of humanity.”

While the Yoons’ mission is long overdue, it also begs the question: In a literary landscape dominated by trauma, what does joy even look like?

To begin with, joy is intersectional. For example, in DeShanna and Trinity Neal’s Kirkus-starred picture book My Rainbow (Kokila, 2020), illustrated by Art Twink, an autistic trans Black child asks her family to make her the perfect wig. The colorful, creative, lovingly unique result surpasses her wildest dreams. In Helen Hoang’s Kirkus-starred romance The Bride Test (Berkley, 2019), a Vietnamese immigrant single mother and an autistic Vietnamese American man find true love. And in Jonny Garza Villa’s YA novel Ander & Santi Were Here (Wednesday Books, 2023), a nonbinary Mexican American teen muralist falls in love with an undocumented waiter. Both characters follow their hearts to a happy ending that comes with an unexpected twist.

Garza Villa’s book exemplifies another aspect of modern literary joy: lifting up the countries our ancestors came from. Whereas the books of my childhood tended to portray the Global South as a desolate wasteland of dirt roads and starving children, today’s authors are ready to celebrate our ancestral sources of nonwhite delight. In Jesse Q. Sutanto’s Well, That Was Unexpected (Delacorte, 2022), the sexually liberated Chinese Indonesian American protagonist falls in love with an Indonesian boy while exploring Jakarta’s hippest corners. Similarly, the Pakistani American protagonists of Sheba Karim’s The Marvelous Mirza Girls (Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins, 2021) find their soul mates in New Delhi, while Farah Heron’s Kirkus-starred romance Jana Goes Wild (Forever, 2023) features a Muslim South Asian Canadian protagonist who faces off with a former fling in her family’s Tanzanian homeland.

Sometimes, joy shines brightest in the mundane. Kevin Noble Maillard’s Kirkus-starred picture book Fry Bread (Roaring Brook Press, 2019), illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, is a celebration of Native American culture centered on a dish families eat almost every day. The memoir All the Things They Said We Couldn’t Have: Stories of Trans Joy (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2023) is a collection of everyday pleasures compiled by trans writer T.C. Oakes-Monger. In Hena Khan’s Zara’s Rules for Record-Breaking Fun (Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster, 2022), illustrated by Wastana Haikal, the Muslim American main character’s greatest challenge is convincing her neighbors to help her get into the Guinness Book of World Records. These stories remind us that ordinary, nontraumatic moments that were once reserved only for cis hetero white male characters can, in the hands of diverse characters, offer up extraordinary stories.

It’s impossible to talk about literary joy without talking about happy endings. And no genre is better at happy endings than romance. Anna Sortino’s YA romance Give Me a Sign (Putnam, 2023) is about a Deaf teenager who finds love and belonging while serving as a junior counselor at a summer camp for the deaf and blind. TJ Alexander’s Chef’s Choice (Emily Bestler/Atria, 2023) is a fake-dating romance in which a trans woman and a trans man fall in love in the process of embracing their transness. And Crystal Maldonado’s Kirkus-starred YA novel Fat Chance, Charlie Vega (Holiday House, 2021) is about a fat, biracial Latine girl whose flirtation with a crush ultimately leads her to fall in love with herself.

Perhaps my favorite kind of joy is the kind that we’ve yet to enjoy. In Akwaeke Emezi’s Kirkus-starred middle-grade novel Pet (Make Me a World, 2019), the trans, Black, ASL-fluent main character inhabits a post–Black Lives Matter world where prisons have been abolished, history is told in a fair and balanced way, and intersectionality is woven into the fabric of society. Emezi’s vision of a just and peaceful future reminds us why writing about joy is so vital to our survival: Trauma shows us where we’ve been. But joy shows us what comes next. Emezi’s book—like all the books discussed here—is proof that a little happiness can take us a long, long way.

Mathangi Subramanian is a novelist, essayist, and founder of Moon Rabbit Writing Studio.