The time has come, folks. The end is near. Harry Potter is coming to an end. The first half of the seventh and last book in the series is coming out on film this Friday and I will be one of thousands in line for the midnight showing.
Yes, I am a Harry Potter nerd and have been since the oh-so-tender age of 13 or so. I can’t quite explain my affinity for the story but I could probably narrow it down to three reasons: it’s relatable, accessible and universal.
While the story may be about wizards, magic, fighting dragons and the like, it’s also a story about growing up and the pains of adolescence which most everyone can relate to. Not only that, J.K. Rowling manages to interweave themes of good vs. evil and the grey area in between, the importance of friends and family – ideas and concepts we all experience to some degree in our everyday lives. What is most impressive and the key to Rowling’s success is that she manages to do this in the span of seven books.
As readers we are able to cry, laugh, get angry, mature and evolve with Harry. Rowling does a great job of developing Harry and the rest of the characters emotionally while also moving the story along and engaging the reader. Generally speaking, regardless of age, race, class, gender, etc., we can see the similarities of the characters’ growing up process reflected in our own lives, making her storytelling that much more powerful and transcendent. And for that, these books will be passed down from generation to generation for years to come.
Ten years after cracking open my first Harry Potter book, I’m now 23 and it’s interesting to read the series from a much different perspective. I notice things like Rowling’s subtle, typical gender role reinforcement, the heteronormativity of most of the pairings and I am critical of the role of Cho Chang. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am pretty psyched that Harry’s first love interest would be an Asian girl. This could be an opportune way for people to see that there are Asians in other countries, that our diaspora is complex, wide and far-reaching. But Cho is one of the few apparent Asians and she really isn’t all that developed of a character. Also, Rowling doesn’t address the interracial nature of their relationship; is this necessary? I still haven’t come to a firm conclusion on that yet. Point is, there’s a visible lack of three-dimensional Asian characters and that kind of bothers me.
Which got me to thinking: which books or novels tap into the richness of Asian American issues or depict Asian Americans at the forefront as actual, fleshed-out characters? Admittedly, I’m much more of a movie-watcher and haven’t read a lot of books ‘for fun’ lately. That’s where I need your help, readers. What books or novels do you feel are the ‘Harry Potter’ of this generation for Asian Americans? Books that have become so universal within our community as a must-read and/or that have been transformational and relatable in how they speak to us and engage us. One book I’d add to that list is ‘Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People’ by Helen Zia, something I’m currently re-reading. In the book, Zia chronicles some of the most politicizing events in Asian American history. What I love about the book is how it’s not typical history. Zia doesn’t bog you down in academia and dense language. Instead, she writes in a way that is accessible and relatively easy to understand. For each chapter, she shares a snippet of her own personal experience as an Asian American and then transitions into the larger issue within Asian American history.
Books like Zia’s are ones that I feel will go down in history as the must-reads for Asian Americans (and non-Asian Americans, too). But that’s only one book. What’ve you got, readers?