Books all first gen-desis should read

Alright dosts, if you’re looking for your next book for first first generation desis, I’ve got you covered! Check out some titles for your next read that you will **actually** relate to in your lives as a first gen desi:

Different titled books arranged with string lights, bow, and a candle.
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

List of books:

  1. All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir
  2. Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin
  3. A Hundred Other Girls by Iman Hariri-Kia
  4. The Mismatch by Sara Jafari
  5. You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat

Now dosts, this is by no means an exhaustive list. I wanted to call out some of the books that I’ve ready recently and that have reached inside and grabbed a piece of my soul without me even realizing it. Some of these books are amazing at the depth in which they can take you. Others are light-hearted and nail first gen desi representation spot on (I legit thought they were talking about my life for a hot second haha).

And most importantly friends? These books are books you can relate to as a first generation desi. I mean, reading is always fun (with SO many books that are available!) but reading hits home when they’re actually written for people that look like me and you. And that’s why this needed to be a blog post.

Anyways, these books will make you laugh, cry, and definitely pause after some of these story lines (seriously though?! I’m still reeeling from some of them haha).

PS! None of these descriptions have spoilers alerts, so carry with no worries (I gotchyu fam ❤️).

Book #1: All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir

Okay, how can I explain this book to y’all?! This novel had in tears (multiple times), raging during other parts, and rooting for our main characters the entire time. What made this book so special (and made me want to put it first on the list ), is that this was a book I could saw myself in. The names sounded familiar, the story line and the families were people I have either seen or experienced in our brown desi culture. And because of this, the struggles they were facing internally were also struggles I have seen or personally dealt with in my own life (talk about shining a mirror on your reader Tahir haha).

This book takes you through a story of 2 teenagers and their struggles, their family history, and what it means to be a desi living in America. I may not have struggled as much as the protagonists in the story (thank God), but I have felt many of the things they have felt on a deeper level simply by being a first-gen desi. Go read it! Link to buy it here.

In America, on some days the dream feels so close you can taste it. And children, my putar? Children are the greatest dream of all. A dream manifest-walking, talking, venturing into the wide world. Open to success and joy and greatness. Open to wild, spectacular possibility.

But open to destruction, also.

P. 214, Sabaa Tahir, All My Rage

Book #2: Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin

Okay y’all, this one is such a fun “beach-y” type read! It’s definitely not something too too serious (although it straddles serious topics such as first-gen American stuff, identity, and the consequences of living in a country where you are visibly the minority). The protagonist wants to follow her dreams of telling stories and is well aware of the fact that she is not following in her family’s footsteps (sound familiar desi girls? Haha).

And this book includes a bit of romance (like many amazing stories do!), so I recommend it as a 10/10 for me. I call this book a “beachy” vibe because the author writes in a light-hearted-ish tone while also tackling some pretty big topics. You will get invested in this book and root for these characters while also exploring how this book reflects some of your real life experiences (some real black mirror ish!!). Def a book first gen desi peeps should check out ❤️. (Psstt, link to buy it here!).

Maybe I was the only one who would really get to choose anything. And I had chosen to get out.

P. 19, Uzma Jalaluddin, Hana Khan Carries On

Book #3: A Hundred Other Girls by Iman Hariri-Kia

Oh my goooshhh y’all this book is an anxiety origin story!!! Yaaaasss, finally something that explains what brown girls go through at work to prove themselves (because you and I both know we all have either been there). This book is about a young woman, Noora, who lands her dream job at her favorite magazine. A magazine which she admired and cherished since she was an adolescent. A magazine that inspired her to become a writer today. A magazine that led her to Loretta James, an icon she had been looking up to for the majority of her life.

So when she finally lands the job as Loretta James’ assistant, she is over the moon ecstatic!!! But dosts, the job isn’t all that’s cracked up to be (and I’ll just leave it at that haha). Though this book does not center around the first generation desi history, the experience of Noora trying her best to prove to her boss that she is capable and worthy is a story we are all too familiar with, especially if you’ve ever worked a corporate job or tried to prove your worth to a supervisor/elder/aunty/uncle etc. And the origin story of her anxiety and how it has affected her life, the familial standards she must look up to, and losing herself to find herself again mirrors what we as first gen desis go through in a country that is “our own” but also “not our own.” 10/10 book first generation desis should read! (Aaaaand here’s ya link).

You see, my parents were immigrants, fresh off the boat from Iran, so to speak. And while my mom and dad were able to give me a lot of things-an education, a stable home, and a whole lot of love-advice was not one of their strong suits. They’re from a different culture and a different time and very good at talking at me but not necessarily to me.

P. 3, Iman Hariri-Kia, A Hundred Other Girls

Book #4: The Mismatch by Sara Jafari

Ohhh Soraya, what will we ever do with you?! Soraya, the protagonist of this novel, is the daughter of Iranian immigrants who is figuring out her life post college (yupp, we’ve all been there). Things become increasingly complicated with her family’s expectations (particularly her dreams not fitting them) and when she’s introduced to Magnus Evans, the love interest of this story. Everything between them becomes heightened since Magnus Evans is one of the cool kids on the block (read gora/popular) while Soraya has never felt like she has fit in socially in her entire life. The book explores their relationship in a typical rom-com storyline while also adding deep first gen intergenerational issues and curses along the way.

The fusion of identities, figuring out oneself, and collective familial identity Jafari explores through Soraya makes this novel amazing to read for any first gen desi. Though the protagonist is not desi, this story uncovers all of the “normal” day to day aspects of the first gen experience. This book had to make the first gen desi list ❤️. (Link link link link link liinnk).

Perhaps she was being overly cautious. Her parents didn’t even have Instagram. This level of paranoia was what her parents had reduced her to. Would she ever not worry about every single thing in her life?

P. 173, Sara Jafari, The Mismatch

Book #5: You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat

Okay dosts, I will be honest and tell you that this book had me clutching it, desperately not wanting it to end. Honestly? This was one of my favorite books I read (yes, ever). Now I’ll warn you when I say: this is not a beach read whatsoever. This novel explores so many first gen experiences, such as sexual, cultural, and religious identities. This is one of those novels where the author will say something (that is so easy to understand), but you look down and see your heart has been ripped open.

The story is about a Middle Eastern first generation American who is discovering herself amongst the many worlds she encompasses, as someone who identifies as queer, a writer, an individual, a daughter. The mother/daughter relationship explored here is one for the books y’all, uncovering facets of how many of our first generation mothers/daughters talk and relate to each other because of the distance placed between us the minute we were not born in the same country as our mothers. If you read any book this year, I recommend You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat. Beware of the many emotions that will come out during the experience and tell me all about it in the comments! (Aaaand your final link for this book is here!).

As an American, I’d tuck my Jordaninan passport away, along with any visual sign of my Palestinian heritage. I would sport my Asics Tigers, flaunt my Hanes V-neck. I’d flash my American passport. Nationality is partly a matter of convenience.

P. 46, Zaina Arafat, You Exist Too Much

Concluding thoughts…

Okay dosts, making a list of books for first gen desis to read was really hard, simply because of the amount of titles available to choose from! But these titles explore the first gen experience so much so that I couldn’t help but write about them in this blog post. Now I’d like to point out that this by no means is an exhaustive list. I have so many (ready so many) books I am still exploring and many I haven’t encountered yet (check out Browngirlbookshelf on instagram, their book recs are superb 👌).

And these are not “classics” by any means. These are simply books that I finally related to as a first generation desi. These books had things that have happened in my or my family’s life, not somebody else’s I had to imagine. And that my dosts, makes all the difference.

Signing off with peace, love, and so so much reading time,

Heens

PS: If you have any other titles you recommend/would like to add to the list, drop them in the comments below!

PPS: If you’re looking for some more book recs, check out my reading calendar here!

Psssst, I’d like to point out and reiterate that I am not a mental health professional and this is not a form of therapy. These posts are based on my experiences and helped me in my journey. There are local websites available for professional mental health services.

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