Three Novels, Three Responses to Anti-Asian Racism, a guest post by Misa Sugiura
My third book, Love & Other Natural Disasters, is being published this month. In my preparations for launch day, I’ve been thinking about my goals as a writer over the course of my career: what’s changed, and what’s stayed the same. I realized that I’ve unpacked a different version of what it means to be Asian American with each book, always with the goal of offering a new angle into the experience and of pushing back against racist or lazy stereotypes. As a former high school teacher, it has been my constant hope that each book will provide a welcome home for some readers, and an eye-opening education for others.
My first book, It’s Not Like It’s a Secret, stuck closely to my personal experience as a child of Japanese immigrants in the Midwest, and as a high school teacher in ethnically diverse Silicon Valley. In it, Sana Kiyohara moves from Wisconsin to California and befriends a group of Asian American girls, which helps her move from ambivalence to celebration of her Asian-ness. At the same time, she falls in love with a Latinx girl and comes to terms with her sexuality. I wanted my book to show Asian kids in ways hadn’t yet been deeply explored in YA: kids who were consciously and unambiguously proud of being Asian American; a teenage Asian lesbian; Asian kids who might be high achievers but who weren’t necessarily nerdy brainiacs who stayed home every night; and anti-Asian racism (and homophobia) as a collection of micro-aggressions that might not seem harmful to others. Kids had conversations about race on the page, and made all kinds of mistakes; my hope was that this would provide readers with a way to talk about race and racism in their own lives.
In my second book, This Time Will Be Different, I chose to dig past the micro-aggressions and directly confront racism (particularly anti-Asian and anti-Japanese racism) on a broader scale: its history and how past injustices like the Japanese American incarceration during World War II can echo through the years in ways that still affect us today. In This Time Will Be Different, CJ Katsuyama goes to a school named after the racist family who used the chaos of the internment decades ago to cheat her family out of nearly everything they owned. To contextualize CJ’s story, I included chapters that stepped outside of the main narrative to educate readers on the history of anti-Asian racism in the United States, and the history of the model minority myth. Because I wanted to push back harder on the stereotype of Asian Americans as the Model Minority, I made CJ an academic underachiever who gets high, has sex, and doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life—because those Asians exist, too! And as before, I had characters openly discuss race and racism on the page so that readers would learn how to talk about it themselves.
Four years after It’s Not Like It’s A Secret was published, we still live in a world where, as a character in that novel joked, “Asians aren’t lesbians!” This is one reason why I decided to add another story to that very small (but growing!) group of books featuring queer Asian girl protagonists. In my third novel, Love & Other Natural Disasters, instead of examining and analyzing Asian and queer identity as I have in the past, I celebrate and normalize it by putting queer Asian girls at the center of a story that leans heavily into popular romantic comedy tropes (Fake dating! Enemies to lovers! Rowboats, bicycle rides, and ice cream parlors!); I’ve focused thematically on personal and family issues, rather than social issues like race and sexuality. And while I’ve steeped the overall plot in broadly popular conventions, I’ve tried to keep the details specifically Asian, so that Asian kids can continue to have the joy of recognizing themselves or their family members in a book.
But wait! There’s more! I’ve written three stories that show three different ways to be Asian American—three different attempts to push back against anti-Asian racism. But Asia is a massive continent, made up of 48 sovereign nations and roughly 2300 distinct, living languages. And there are many Asian authors with an enormous variety of stories to tell. Authors like Randy Ribay and Riley Redgate (Filipino), Lori Lee (Hmong), Thanha Lai (Vietnamese) C.B. Lee and Julie Dao, (Chinese/Vietnamese), Sara Farizan and Abdi Nazemian (Iranian), Sabina Khan (Bangladeshi), Tanaz Bhathena (Indian), and more offer valuable perspectives on what it means to be Asian in ways that extend far beyond my stories. By introducing our kids to this rich diversity of characters and stories, you join the fight against the reductive and destructive forces of racism. I hope that you will consider including all kinds of Asian stories in your collections, regardless of whom you serve, so that your readers—both Asian and non-Asian—will get to see that there are as many ways to be Asian American as there are Asians in America.
Meet the author
Misa Sugiura’s ancestors include a poet, a priestess, a samurai, and a stowaway. Her debut novel, It’s Not Like It’s A Secret, won the APALA Award for YA Literature, and her critically acclaimed second novel, This Time Will Be Different, made the “Best of 2019” lists of the New York Public Library, the Chicago Public Library, Kirkus, and YALSA. Her latest book, Love & Other Natural Disasters, and has been praised in SLJ as “an adorable rom-com” and “a fun romance that engages with deeper issues.” Booklist describes it as “hilariously awkward” and “honestly poignant,” while Kirkus calls it “a laugh-out-loud, tender, and wholly satisfying read.” Misa lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, two sons, and three cats.
About Love & Other Natural Disasters
This delightfully disastrous queer YA rom-com is a perfect read for fans of Jenny Han, Morgan Matson, and Sandhya Menon.
When Nozomi Nagai pictured the ideal summer romance, a fake one wasn’t what she had in mind.
That was before she met the perfect girl. Willow is gorgeous, glamorous, and…heartbroken? And when she enlists Nozomi to pose as her new girlfriend to make her ex jealous, Nozomi is a willing volunteer.
Because Nozomi has a master plan of her own: one to show Willow she’s better than a stand-in, and turn their fauxmance into something real. But as the lies pile up, it’s not long before Nozomi’s schemes take a turn toward disaster…and maybe a chance at love she didn’t plan for.
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/08/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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