If you had asked me as a young girl who I was going to marry, I wouldn’t have said an Asian guy. I probably wouldn’t have mentioned his race or ethnicity at all, but Asian guys were definitely not on my radar. So it surprised me more than anyone when in college I fell in love with an Asian guy I’d met my freshman year and had proceeded to become best friends with a year later. I wasn’t seeing his ethnicity — just him. But the moment I started dating him nearly 17 years ago, I realized that Asian men are hardly ever depicted as romantic or even attractive.
That’s why I was so over the moon when I first read “Bumped” by Megan McCafferty and discovered the objection of Melody’s affection is the “Chino-Chicano” love interest Zen Chen-Chavez. He’s smart (a debate champion) and opinionated and supports Melody unconditionally, even though he’s not-so-secretly in love with her. And even in the first book, when he’s only 5’7, Melody returns Zen’s feelings. In a dystopian future where teenagers are encouraged to conceive (and then give up for the adoption) as many babies as possible (only teenagers are fertile), Zen stays celibate because he’s so true to Melody.
As Eleanor calls him, he’s the “stupid beautiful Asian kid” who makes one fateful decision to angrily make room for her — the awkward and curvy new red-headed girl — on the bus, changing both of their lives in the process. I’ll be writing a lot more about this book, because I can’t stop thinking about the characters and their believable love story. Park is the kind of guy who will kick a popular bully in the face, drive 387 miles, and wait by a phone for hours for the chance to defend, save, be with the girl he loves.
I know this list of swoon Asian guys in young adult books is short (I thought about adding Milo from Siohban Vivian’s “The List” or Max from Jennifer Echols’ “The One That I Want,” but it has been a while since I read either book) and that both of these guys are hapa and not full, but I hope it’s a start. I hope if I write this post next year, I can include more characters, because Asian guys can be beautiful, and girls of all backgrounds shouldn’t be told that only golden-haired or blue-eyed white boys are worth their consideration.
Edited to add: How could I forget Jem Carstairs from Cassandra Clare’s “Infernal Devices” series? He is, after all, one of our Literary Crushes, along with his parabatai Will Herondale! He’s also hapa and definitely swoon-worthy, what with his gentle, loving, dying — sniff — ways. As Tessa muses, “His beauty did not blaze like Will’s did in fierce colors and repressed fire, but it had its own muted perfection, the loveliness of snow falling against a silver gray sky.”
So what other full or hapa Asian guys have you swooned over in teen lit?