When’s the best time to pick up books written by Filipino diaspora authors? Any time! On any day. All-year-round.
But since October is celebrated as Filipino American History Month, it seemed like a good time to put together a list of books written by Filipino diaspora authors. Make no mistake. Filipino and Filipino diaspora authors have so many vibrant and meaningful stories to offer — and it can honestly be tough to decide where to begin! Hence, the goal of this blog post: to help you find where to start. Hopefully.
While I try to be really exhaustive with my book lists, this particular list is mainly introductory in design. Many of the Filipino diaspora authors featured here have written numerous books, but for the sake of brevity and content readability, I settled on showcasing just one work for every author.
In other words, I highly encourage you to dive deeper and go beyond this list! There are more stories and more Filipino diaspora authors out there that you just might fall in love with.
Anyway, in this list, you’ll find twenty-three (23) books written by Filipino diaspora authors that you should most definitely check out! Specifically, this includes authors who grew up outside of the Philippines, Filipino authors who have migrated to other countries, and authors from immigrant families.
Moreover, much like all my previous book lists, I’ve marked the books that I’ve personally read with a cute yellow heart emoji (💛). And yes, this post does contain affiliate links for Amazon.
500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario 💛
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: A high school senior attempts to salvage her reputation among her Ivy League–obsessed classmates by writing their college admissions essays and in the process learns big truths about herself.
WHY READ IT: Perfect for fans of verse novels, 500 Words or Less offers a compelling story that many college-bound readers can relate to. Especially those who experienced their first heartbreak in high school.
America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Three generations of Filipino women from one immigrant family try to reconcile the home they left behind with the life they’re building in America.
WHY READ IT: Given the current state of the United States, this is an increasingly relevant novel that deconstructs the promise of the American dream. It also looks into the violent political history in the Philippines.
Any Day with You by Mae Respicio
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: A young girl enters a filmmaking contest in the hopes that winning it can convince her great-grandfather not to move back home to the Philippines.
WHY READ IT: Written for middle grade readers, Any Day with You promises a warm, tender story about the relationship between a girl and her great-grandfather. Additionally, a short film inspired by Filipino folktales? I’m sold.
The Body Papers by Grace Talusan
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Born in the Philippines, young Grace Talusan moves with her family to a New England suburb in the 1970s. At school, she confronts racism as one of the few kids with a brown face. At home, the confusion is worse: her grandfather’s nightly visits to her room leave her hurt and terrified.
WHY READ IT: The Body Papers is a critically acclaimed memoir. It examines the lived experiences of immigrants, childhood abuse, and cancer.
The Chimera Code by Wayne Santos
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Everything’s for hire — even magic. Cloke is a nonbinary neuromancer who’s been hired for a dangerous task that’s unlike anything they’ve ever done.
WHY READ IT: The Chimera Code is a unique cyberpunk thriller that promises a lot of action, magic, and technology beyond our wildest dreams.
Dream Jungle by Jessica Hagedorn
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Set in a Philippines of desperate beauty and rank corruption, Dream Jungle feverishly traces the consequences of two seemingly unrelated events: the discovery of an alleged “lost tribe” and the arrival of a celebrity-studded American film crew filming an epic Vietnam War movie.
WHY READ IT: Listen. It’s Jessica freaking Hagedorn. Her works are practically required reading at this point. Especially if you’re interested in Filipino-American literature. (Also, I enjoyed analyzing her other work, Dogeaters, for a college class!)
Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Rhee is the sole surviving heir to a powerful dynasty. She’ll stop at nothing to avenge her family and claim her throne.
WHY READ IT: Following the misadventures of an empress and a fugitive, Empress of a Thousand Skies is a compelling sci-fi debut that tackles vengeance, warfare, and legacy.
Everlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz 💛
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: After a family tragedy results in the loss of both father and home, twelve-year-old Nora lives with her mother in Manila’s North Cemetery. When her mother disappears mysteriously one day, Nora is left alone.
WHY READ IT: This middle-grade debut offers a tale that’s both sad and heartwarming. A story about hope, struggle, and perseverance. Everlasting Nora truly moved me to tears.
The Farm by Joanne Ramos
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, is in desperate search of a better future when she commits to being a “Host” at Golden Oaks—or the Farm, as residents call it. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her family, Jane is determined to reconnect with her life outside.
WHY READ IT: The Farm is a critically acclaimed novel. Deliberately provocative, its story aims to challenge our ideals about motherhood, money, and merit.
The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi 💛
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Set in 1889, a crew of incredibly talented individuals must use their wits and knowledge to hunt an ancient artifact through the dark, glittering heart of Paris.
WHY READ IT: Enrique Mercado-Lopez. That’s all you need to know.
The Groom Will Keep His Name by Matt Ortile
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Through a collection of essays, The Groom Will Keep His Name explores the various tales Ortile spun about what it means to be a Vassar Girl, an American Boy, and a Filipino immigrant in New York looking to build a home.
WHY READ IT: That book cover? Essays about sex, power, and the model minority myth? Written by a gay Filipino immigrant? I need this in my life. And so do you!
The Hour of Daydreams by Renee Macalino Rutledge 💛
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Manolo Lualhati believes his wife hides a secret. Prior to their marriage, he spied her wearing wings and flying to the stars with her sisters each evening. As Tala tries to keep her dangerous past from her new husband, Manolo begins questioning the gaps in her stories—and his suspicions push him even further from the truth.
WHY READ IT: The Hour of Daydreams offers a contemporary reimagining of an Ibaloi myth. I loved the dream-like quality of Rutledge’s writing style, as well as the clever spin on unreliable narrators.
I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: One part Mari Andrew, one part Marjane Satrapi, I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir is a triumphant tale of self-discovery, a celebration of a family’s rich heritage, and a love letter to American immigrant freedom.
WHY READ IT: Teenage angst and antics! Questions about identity and culture! Learning how to code-switch! Figuring out how to fit in!
Ignite the Stars by Maura Milan 💛
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Everyone in the universe knows his name. Everyone in the universe fears him. But no one realizes that notorious outlaw Ia Cōcha is a seventeen-year-old girl.
WHY READ IT: The way that everyone continues to overlook this YA sci-fi pilot debut is a crime that needs to be rectified immediately! Ignite the Stars is a gripping and exciting read.
Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly 💛
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: When Lalani Sarita’s mother pricks her finger and falls ill, twelve-year-old Lalani faces an impossible task—leaving Sanlagita to find the riches of the legendary Mount Isa. But generations of men and boys have died on the same quest—how can a timid young girl survive the epic tests of the archipelago?
WHY READ IT: Lalani of the Distant Sea is a beautifully written literary adventure that’s lovingly inspired by Filipino folklore. It’s a heartwarming coming-of-age story that I hope to someday watch on the big screen.
My Heart Underwater by Laurel Flores Fantauzzo 💛
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: After Corazon’s mother catches her kissing her older female teacher, Corazon is sent to the Philippines to live with a half brother she barely knows. There she learns more about loss and love than she could have ever imagined.
WHY READ IT: Despite my personal reservations about this book, I do believe that My Heart Underwater is worth a second glance. Corazon’s rose-tinted perception of her “love” for her teacher was definitely challenged and corrected, and ultimately, she faced her victimhood and learned from it.
Once Upon a Sunset by Tif Marcelo
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: After learning that her grandfather lived through World War II and that she has surviving relatives in the Philippines, Diana is determined to connect with the family that she never knew existed, while her own mother refuses to face her history.
WHY READ IT: Once Upon a Sunset is a charming novel that tackles the complexities of diasporic identity. It also illustrates the longing for the motherland and the desire to reconnect with one’s roots. This is a book that’s sure to resonate with many readers who grew up in the diaspora.
Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay 💛
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: When he discovers that his Filipino cousin Jun was murdered as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs, and no one in the family wants to talk about what happened, Jay travels to the Philippines to find out the real story.
WHY READ IT: Given the current political landscape in the Philippines, Patron Saints of Nothing is a must-read. This book does a phenomenal job of addressing pertinent issues while portraying Filipino culture in a balanced blend of good and bad.
Private Lessons by Cynthia Salaysay 💛
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: In a standout debut for the #MeToo era, a young pianist devotes herself to her art — and to the demanding, charismatic teacher she idolizes.
WHY READ IT: Private Lessons delves into an inappropriate, manipulative student/teacher relationship. Although I have reservations about this book, it does offer a complicated, controversial coming-of-age story that tackles self-acceptance and sexual awakening. (Trigger/Content warnings for on-page rape of a minor; graphic sex scenes; underage smoking and drinking; and cancer.)
Unscripted Joss Byrd by Lygia Day Peñaflor
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Joss Byrd is America’s most celebrated young actress, and her next project is a hot new indie film helmed by a renowned, charismatic director. But on the set of The Locals, Joss’s life is far from glamorous.
WHY READ IT: I don’t know about you, but I am a huge fan of stories that explore the behind-the-scenes of celebrity life.
Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop by Roselle Lim
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Vanessa Yu never wanted to see people’s fortunes—or misfortunes—in tea leaves. The day before her matchmaking appointment, Vanessa accidentally sees her own fate: death by traffic accident. She decides that she can’t truly live until she can find a way to get rid of her uncanny abilities.
WHY READ IT: I’m only halfway through this novel, but here’s what I can say so far: chaotic family energy, deliciously described food, and hilarious matchmaking attempts.
Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles 💛
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: In a city covered in ice and ruin, magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.
WHY READ IT: Revolving around a powerful showgirl’s desire to win her freedom, Where Dreams Descend is an ambitious fantasy debut.
The Wolf of Oren-yaro by K.S. Villoso 💛
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Born under the crumbling towers of her kingdom, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves. It nearly tore her nation apart. But her arranged marriage to the son of a rival clan heralds peace. However, he suddenly disappears before their reign can begin, and the kingdom is fractured beyond repair.
WHY READ IT: All hail the bitch queen! The Wolf of Oren-yaro is a compelling character study set in a fantasy world inspired by pre-colonial Philippines. This is a series that’s bound to leave you breathless, frustrated, and wanting more.
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I’d love to hear from you!
🌻 What are your thoughts on American heritage or history months? Personally, I don’t celebrate them, including this one. Simply because I’m not American. And I’m also uncomfortable with how some people treat these months as globally encompassing events, like World Health Day. Nonetheless, I recognize that they’re a good entry point to encourage people to start diversifying the art, media, and literature that they consume. Which is always great!
🌻 Have you recently read a book written by a Filipino diaspora author? Are any of these listed titles familiar to you? Did you find new books to add to your TBR or new Filipino diaspora authors to support?
🌻 Do you have any recommendations to add to this list? As I said earlier, this blog post is more of an introduction. I definitely wasn’t able to include all the Filipino diaspora authors, so it’d be awesome if you can highlight some more in the comments below.