A Generation of New Taiwanese American Writers Emerge

An interesting thing happened over the past two years. And it’s an occurrence our Taiwanese American community hasn’t seen before. Since 2005, five emerging Taiwanese American authors have garnered attention in many facets of the literary mainstream with their wonderfully reviewed books!

The writers creatively use diverse narrative structures, from fictional short stories to first-person accounts, and target a wide range of audiences, from children and young adults to a general adult literary audience. Interestingly, one thing arguably unifies them: their voices reflect with varying degree their personal experiences as 2nd generation Taiwanese Americans.

Support the works of writers in our community. Consider buying one of their books for yourself or for friends and family. Another idea? Buy several books and donate them to your local library! It’s been an amazing year for Taiwanese Americans in the world of literature, and this is a great way of telling their publishers that we want more texts to reflect Asian America!

Below, we share brief synopses of the books by these five breakout stars:

Pauline Chen’s Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality

When Pauline Chen began medical school twenty years ago, she dreamed of saving lives. What she did not count on was how much death would be a part of her work. Almost immediately, Chen found herself wrestling with medicine’s most profound paradox, that a profession premised on caring for the ill also systematically depersonalizes dying. Final Exam follows Chen over the course of her education, training, and practice as she grapples at strikingly close range with the problem of mortality, and struggles to reconcile the lessons of her training with her innate knowledge of shared humanity, and to separate her ideas about healing from her fierce desire to cure.

From her first dissection of a cadaver in gross anatomy to the moment she first puts a scalpel to a living person; from the first time she witnesses someone flat lining in the emergency room to the first time she pronounces a patient dead, Chen is struck by her own mortal fears: there was a dying friend she could not call; a young patient’s tortured death she could not forget; even the sense of shared kinship with a corpse she could not cast aside when asked to saw its pelvis in two. Gradually, as she confronts the ways in which her fears have incapacitated her, she begins to reject what she has been taught about suppressing her feelings for her patients, and she begins to carve out a new role for herself as a physician and as human being. Chen’s transfixing and beautiful rumination on how doctors negotiate the ineluctable fact of death becomes, in the end, a brilliant questioning of how we should live.
– From Random House website
– More info at
PaulineChen.com

Justina Chen Headley’s Nothing But the Truth (and a Few White Lies)

Hapa (Half Asian and half white) Patty Ho has never felt completely at home in her skin. Life at House Ho is tough enough between her ultra-strict Taiwanese mom (epic-length lectures and all) and her Harvard-bound big brother. But things get worse when a Chinese fortuneteller channels Patty’s future via her bellybutton…and divines a white guy on her horizon.

Her mom then freaks out and ships her off to math camp at Stanford. Just as Patty writes off her summer of woe, life starts glimmering with all kinds of probabilities. Written with the perfect balance of humor, poignancy, and sharp wit, Nothing But the Truth (and a Few White Lies) is the debut of a bright new talent.
– From Hachette Books Group website
– More info at
JustinaChenHeadley.com

Brenda Lin’s Wealth Ribbon: Taiwan Bound, America Bound

Wealth Ribbon: Taiwan Bound, America Bound is a thematic narrative that intertwines the coming-of-age story of Taiwan with three generations of the author’s family history and relationship with American culture. Together, these interconnected essays form a distinctive view of what it is like to have a transnational identity and show how the everyday politics of an international cultural identity is in fact quite universal.

“Language” focuses on Lin’s grandmother, who grew up in Taiwan during the Japanese occupation speaking Japanese fluently and developing a strong cultural tie to Japan. The story shows how language played an important part in defining what it meant to be Taiwanese in the post-occupation era, when Taiwan was returned to China. “Place” traces the story of Lin’s father, whom she uses as a symbol for the new Taiwanese identity of his generation— opportunistic and entrepreneurial people who immigrated to the United States in the 1970s only to return home after just a few years, despite Taiwan’s uncertain political future. “Nationality” describes Lin’s first trip to mainland China, where she becomes conscious of her displacement traveling as a Taiwanese-American on the mainland, which raises poignant questions about national identity and cultural loyalty. In the last three chapters—“Home,” “Translations,” and “Umbilical Cord”—the three generations of Lin’s family, which represent both similar and different languages and cultures, come together in a sometimes cacophonous, other times melodious, symphony of emotions. This collection of narrative essays weaves together a ribbon of unique experiences that readers of all backgrounds will be able to relate to.
– From University of Indianapolis Press

Grace Lin’s Year of the Dog

When Lin was a girl, she loved the Betsy books by Carolyn Hayward, a series about a quintessentially American girl whose days centered around friends and school. But Lin, a child of Taiwanese immigrants, didn’t see herself in the pages. Now she has written the book she wished she had as a child. Told in a simple, direct voice, her story follows young Grace through the Year of the Dog, one that Grace hopes will prove lucky for her. And what a year it is! Grace meets a new friend, another Asian girl, and together they enter a science fair, share a crush on the same boy, and enjoy special aspects (food!) of their heritage. Grace even wins fourth place in a national book-writing contest and finds her true purpose in life. Lin, who is known for her picture books, dots the text with charming ink drawings, some priceless, such as one picturing Grace dressed as a munchkin. Most of the chapters are bolstered by anecdotes from Grace’s parents, which connect Grace (and the reader) to her Taiwanese heritage. Lin does a remarkable job capturing the soul and the spirit of books like those of Hayward or Maud Hart Lovelace, reimagining them through the lens of her own story, and transforming their special qualities into something new for today’s young readers.
– From Booklist
– More info at
GraceLin.com

Charles Yu’s Third Class Superhero

Charles Yu experiments with form and genre to explore the stories we tell ourselves while navigating contemporary life. In “Third Class Superhero,” a would- be good guy must come to terms with the darkness in his heart. A couple living in the Luxury Car Commercial subdivision in “401(k)” are disappointed when their exotic vacation turns into a Life Insurance/Asset Management pitch. The author struggles to write the definitive biography of his mother in “Autobiographical Raw Material Unsuitable for the Mining of Fiction.” In these and other stories, Yu’s characters run up against the conventions and parameters of their artificial story lines while tackling the terrifying aspects of existence: mothers, jobs, spouses, the need to express feelings.

Heartbreaking, hilarious, smart, and surprising, Third Class Superhero marks the arrival of an impressive new talent.
– From Harcourt Books website
– More info at
TheBrothersYu.com


Did you make it this far? If so, you’ve been rewarded with the opportunity to win an autographed copy of Charles Yu’s book, Third Class Superhero. Just send an email to [email protected] with the subject “superhero”, and I’ll drop the entries into a bucket, pick one randomly on April 30, and send it to you courtesy of TaiwaneseAmerican.org!

*EDIT* Congratulations Alice H. of Berkeley, CA and Reynalyn C. of San Diego, CA, our two winners of the book drawing!

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