If you’ve read Daisybutter for any length of time, then you’ll already know that I’m a lifelong bookworm. My Mum was faithful in taking me to the local library as a child and even though I couldn’t read, I adored the ritual of picking a book and flipping through the pages.
Like many British-born Chinese children, I grew up speaking Cantonese as my first language, later learning English at preschool. My English tutor would encourage me to read as much as possible to absorb more of the language, and I took them very seriously indeed. I’d be enthralled by Jacqueline Wilson novels and reading about ‘tea’ after school with friends. I’d devour series after series learning about how white girls formed friendships and went to Brownies and sat with family for dinner at 5pm. But nothing ever felt relatable. Instead, I read all of these books for escapism, to learn about a world I lived in but didn’t live in. After all, I was hardly expecting to see or read about someone like me in ‘90s England.
Today, my shelves are full of brilliant titles and inspiring stories by ESEA (East and South East Asian) authors, and not only am I grateful that representation is making minuscule steps forward, I’m proud. So what if it took over 20 years to start finding representation and a sense of belonging?
From historical fiction to fantasy, autobiographical to YA, it’s been transformative to my identity to finally read stories that I connect to. To know that others grew up raised by matriarchal Grandmas, underneath takeaway counters then serving customers at a restaurant. To appreciate and celebrate the cultural events and traditions I’d always loved but hidden from school friends in my formative years. To learn about the history of my ancestors when I definitely didn’t at school.
Here’s to ESEA reading joy, and the books that are paving the way.
A Starter ESEA Reading List
- Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
- Girls of Paper and Fire – Natasha Ngan
- Happy Families – Julie Ma
- Loveboat, Taipei – Abigail Hing Wen
- If I Had Your Face – Frances Cha
- The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling – Wai Chim
- How We Disappeared – Jing-Jing Lee
- Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng
- The Good Immigrant – Edited by Nikesh Shukla
- Chinese Cinderella – Adeline Yen Mah
- All You Can Ever Know – Nicole Chung
- Peony in Love – Lisa See
- I Love You So Mochi – Sarah Kuhn
- Minor Feelings – Cathy Park Hong
Got an ESEA book recommendation for the community? Share it with us all below!