Listicle

Saturday Smutty Six: Asian (American) Romance—Identity, Race, and Culture

May is Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month, so this week and next week we’ll be highlighting some of our favorite romances by Asian (and Asian-American and Asian-Canadian) authors. This week, we focus on books where the emotional arc of the story is inextricably linked with questions of identity. 

My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma

Winnie processes events in her life by watching Bollywood movies. So when her boyfriend—who she thinks she’s fated to be with because of a prophecy—breaks up with her, she deals with it by watching movies and having dreams where Shah Rukh Khan gives her advice. This Young Adult romance offers not only a thoughtful portrait of a young woman crying to figure out her relationship with “destiny,” but also an excellent list of films to dive into if you want to dive into Bollywood cinema. 

Rebel Hard by Nalini Singh

So, Raj and Nayna are actually Asian New Zealander, but I am of the opinion that setting anything Down Under makes it better. I kid. (Kind of.) The point is, Raj and Nayna are both from relatively traditional Indian families, and they’re both seeking their future happiness but realize they have to come to terms with how their culture plays a role in their lives and decision making. It was a bit angsty for Singh, but maybe that just made it more satisfying. 

The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan

Jeremy Wentworth, Duke of Lansing, is half-Chinese. And the place where he feels most at home is the town of Wedgeford, where he goes every year for the annual “trials” (kind of an epic village-wide capture the flag situation?)—and pretends to be just a regular guy. He’s been in love with Chloe for years, and swears that this year he will prove himself worthy of her. What’s great about this book is that Milan unpacks the racism faced by the characters gradually, slowly revealing how their circumstances have shaped their personalities. 

Ice Cream Lover by Jackie Lau

This light-hearted romp about an ice cream shop owner and a guy who hates ice cream is both hilarious and a thoughtful examination of identity. As a biracial woman whose (white) father “doesn’t see color”, Chloe deals with strong feelings of alienation, both from her family and from the Asian-Canadian community in Toronto. Her ice cream shop, which specializes in flavors like durian, red bean, and green tea in memory of her late mother, and her burgeoning relationship with Drew, are both avenues through which Chloe creates space for herself. 

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

In this Pride and Prejudice retelling, Ayesha and Khalid navigate the tensions between devout Muslim faith, family expectations, cultural assimilation, and their own desires. There’s a lot there, but Jalaluddin skillfully weaves together their internal conflicts and a beautiful slow burn romance. There is a lot of pining, and one of the most sexually fraught moments of fully-clothed face touching ever written. 

Counting Down with You by Tashie Bhuiyan

In this YA romance, we have a very bright young woman who desperately wants to study English while her parents insist she study pre-med. When her parents go away for a month, leaving her with her grandma and brother, she ends up agreeing to tutor the school’s bad boy (who, spoiler—is actually a very thoughtful and talented musician). Through Karina’s relationship with Ace, Karina learns to advocate for herself within the loving (but often restrictive) confines of her family.

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