I’m going to be doing something a bit different this year in terms of sharing books I’m excited for in 2021. I’ve always been a passionate advocate for diverse representation in YA, but it wasn’t until last year that I started advocated for my own community and voices that look and sound like me, as crazy as that sounds. South Asians are one of the most underrepresented communities in literature, and especially in YA, so, I’m going to be releasing guides for you to learn about the upcoming YA books by and about South Asians coming out in 2021.
The main goal of this series is to not only highlight these books, but also to highlight their authors, because they deserve the recognition and love for doing what they’re doing and making so many of us feel seen and heard.
I’m also going to be providing resources for you to pre-order these books from indie bookstores. I understand that not everyone has the resources to purchase books from indie stores as opposed to Amazon, but if you do, I want to encourage you to consider that option by making it as easy as possible, because as easy as Amazon is, I don’t want to be promoting and supporting their unethical treatment of workers if I don’t have to, and would love to support physical bookstores who are struggling as a result of the pandemic. I’ve selected a different online source for each book, but if you want to order from an indie store close to you, you can find a list of them here!
Without further ado, here are some South Asian Romances you can look forward to reading in 2021!
1. Radha and Jai’s Recipe for Romance by Nisha Sharma
Release Date: July 13, 2021
To All the Boys I Loved Before meets World of Dance in this delectable love story that combines food, dance, and a hint of drama to cook up the perfect romance.
Radha is on the verge of becoming one of the greatest kathak dancers in the world . . . until a family betrayal costs her the biggest competition of her life. Now she has left her Chicago home behind to follow her stage mom to New Jersey. At the Princeton Academy of the Arts, Radha is determined to leave performing in her past and reinvent herself from scratch.
Jai is captain of the Bollywood Beats dance team, ranked first in his class, and is an overachiever with no college plans. Tight family funds means medical school is a pipe dream, which is why he wants to make the most out of high school. When Radha enters his life, he realizes she’s the exact ingredient he needs for a show-stopping senior year.
With careful choreography, both Radha and Jai will need to face their fears (and their families) if they want a taste of a happily ever after.
2. Counting Down with You by Tashie Bhuiyan
Release Date: May 4, 2021
In this sparkling and romantic YA debut, a reserved Bangladeshi teenager has twenty-eight days to make the biggest decision of her life after agreeing to fake date her school’s resident bad boy.
How do you make one month last a lifetime?
Karina Ahmed has a plan. Keep her head down, get through high school without a fuss, and follow her parents’ rules—even if it means sacrificing her dreams. When her parents go abroad to Bangladesh for four weeks, Karina expects some peace and quiet. Instead, one simple lie unravels everything.
Karina is my girlfriend.
Tutoring the school’s resident bad boy was already crossing a line. Pretending to date him? Out of the question. But Ace Clyde does everything right—he brings her coffee in the mornings, impresses her friends without trying, and even promises to buy her a dozen books (a week) if she goes along with his fake-dating facade. Though Karina agrees, she can’t help but start counting down the days until her parents come back.
T-minus twenty-eight days until everything returns to normal—but what if Karina no longer wants it to?
3. The Lady or the Lion by Aamna Qureshi
Release Date: June 22, 2021
Representation: Pakistani inspired
Perfect for fans of These Violent Delights and The Wrath and the Dawn, this scintillating debut retells “The Lady or the Tiger?” against a Pakistan-inspired world of forbidden love and court intrigues.
Once there was a princess forced to choose a fate for her lover-to a future in the arms of a beautiful lady, or to death in the mouth of a lion? But what came first was the fate she would choose for herself.
As crown princess of Marghazar, Durkhanai Miangul will do anything to protect her people and her land. When her grandfather, the Badshah, is blamed for a deadly assault on the summit of neighboring leaders, the tribes call for his head. To assuage cries for war, the Badshah opens Marghazar’s gates to foreigners for the first time in centuries, in a sign of good faith. Enter Ambassador Asfandyar Afridi, a wry foreigner who admits outright that he is a spy. Stubborn, proud, and suspicious of foreigners, Durkhanai does not appreciate that he won’t bow to her every whim and instead talks circles around her.
And yet, she has to make him her ally to expose those truly responsible for the attack as more ambassadors from neighboring tribal districts arrive at court, each one of them with their own agenda and reasons to hide the truth.When a mysterious illness spreads through the village and the imperialists push hard on her borders, Durkhanai must sort through the ever shifting loyalties at court and her growing feelings for Asfandyar. Will she be able to leave the antics of a spoiled princess behind and become what her people need-a queen?
4. Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar
Release Date: May 25, 2021
Representation: LGBTQ, bisexual
Everyone likes Humaira “Hani” Khan—she’s easy going and one of the most popular girls at school. But when she comes out to her friends as bisexual, they invalidate her identity, saying she can’t be bi if she’s only dated guys. Panicked, Hani blurts out that she’s in a relationship…with a girl her friends absolutely hate—Ishita “Ishu” Dey. Ishu is the complete opposite of Hani. She’s an academic overachiever who hopes that becoming head girl will set her on the right track for college. But Ishita agrees to help Hani, if Hani will help her become more popular so that she stands a chance of being elected head girl.
Despite their mutually beneficial pact, they start developing real feelings for each other. But relationships are complicated, and some people will do anything to stop two Bengali girls from achieving happily ever after.
5. Zara Hossain Is Here by Sabina Khan
Release Date: April 6, 2021
Representation: LGBT, Pakistani, first generation immigrant
Zara’s family has waited years for their visa process to be finalized so that they can officially become US citizens. But it only takes one moment for that dream to come crashing down around them.
Seventeen-year-old Pakistani immigrant, Zara Hossain, has been leading a fairly typical life in Corpus Christi, Texas, since her family moved there for her father to work as a pediatrician. While dealing with the Islamophobia that she faces at school, Zara has to lay low, trying not to stir up any trouble and jeopardize their family’s dependent visa status while they await their green card approval, which has been in process for almost nine years.
But one day her tormentor, star football player Tyler Benson, takes things too far, leaving a threatening note in her locker, and gets suspended. As an act of revenge against her for speaking out, Tyler and his friends vandalize Zara’s house with racist graffiti, leading to a violent crime that puts Zara’s entire future at risk. Now she must pay the ultimate price and choose between fighting to stay in the only place she’s ever called home or losing the life she loves and everyone in it.
From the author of the “heart-wrenching yet hopeful” (Samira Ahmed) novel, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali, comes a timely, intimate look at what it means to be an immigrant in America today, and the endurance of hope and faith in the face of hate.
Let me know down below if you’re planning to read any of these books or have any other upcoming YA romances by and about South Asian authors you’d like to recommend; I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Thanks so much for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day!