Jennilee Austria-Bonifacio's unforgettable first novel, Reuniting with Strangers, follows the reunification of Filipino caregiver families over one Canadian winter—and the mysterious progress of Monolith, who appears and disappears in their lives.
The Jade Peony, by Wayson Choy
When I had to study The Jade Peony in grad school, it made me realize that while I’d spent years reading books by Asian-American authors, I’d never even considered that they could have Canadian counterparts. Reading Wayson’s words about Vancouver’s Chinatown was a revelation. The Jade Peony was incisive, historic, and authentic, and Wayson cemented its place in CanLit while telling hard truths in a memorable way. Years later, when I became Wayson’s assistant during the Humber School for Writers IFOA program, I was so touched by his generosity of spirit and his unwavering belief in me. Wayson is missed, but his work lives on in so many of us.
Every time I present Filipino-Canadian literature recommendations through my school board consulting initiative, Filipino Talks, I dedicate multiple slides to this graphic memoir. When Lorina's father suddenly dies in the Philippines, she leaves her husband and children to rush back to Manila, where she experiences flashbacks of her coming-of-age moments during martial law. It is a story of a daughter’s grief, the power of memory, the fun of being a music-loving teenager in the 1980s, and a firsthand account of Filipino history during pivotal moments of the People Power Revolution. If you're seeking a graphic memoir for yourself, a classroom, or a library collection, definitely look into this one!
How to Pronounce Knife, by Souvankham Thammavongsa
When you’re from a diasporic community that isn’t exactly known for a love of literature, you often lose sleep wondering if they’ll want to read anything you write. Enter How to Pronounce Knife: the book that showed me the power of accessible language. In the midst of books that left readers muddling through winding sentences and abstract words, here was Souvankham with her searing stories of settlement, hardship, and belonging told in a beautifully taut, precise way that everyone could understand.
Scarborough, by Catherine Hernandez
The first time I ever saw a Filipino author present in a bookstore, it was Catherine Hernandez reading Scarborough at Glad Day Bookshop. This novel transports readers to Kingston/Galloway to reveal truths about child neglect, the poisoning impact of prejudice, the power of a loving parent, and so much more. As a community worker, I loved that through Ms. Hina’s story, Catherine showed readers the immense stress placed on frontline workers to make a difference within the confines of an unsympathetic system. (And it goes without saying, but Scarborough the film is terrific, too.)
Hollow Bamboo, by William Ping
I’m the kind of traveller who often falls asleep on a plane before takeoff, but after I started Hollow Bamboo on a recent flight from Vancouver to Toronto, I couldn’t put it down. Told in a wonderfully creative way, this book is entertaining, educational, shocking, and addictive. I love learning about the origin stories of diasporas, and William Ping’s novel gives readers an immersive look at the incredible hardships faced by Newfoundland's first Chinese community. I wish the flight attendants had taken me seriously when I asked if I could stay on the plane and fly back to Vancouver with them so that I could finish this book in one sitting.
And these are further consideration: