Interview with Kelly Loy Gilbert – author of When We Were Infinite

Today, co-hosts Shenwei and Wendy are so excited to be bringing you an interview with YA author Kelly Loy Gilbert! Her latest book, When We Were Infinite, just released today, and you can find out more below.

About When We Were Infinite

From award-winning author Kelly Loy Gilbert comes a powerful, achingly romantic drama about the secrets we keep, from each other and from ourselves, perfect for fans of Permanent Record and I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.

All Beth wants is for her tight-knit circle of friends—Grace Nakamura, Brandon Lin, Sunny Chen, and Jason Tsou—to stay together. With her family splintered and her future a question mark, these friends are all she has—even if she sometimes wonders if she truly fits in with them. Besides, she’s certain she’ll never be able to tell Jason how she really feels about him, so friendship will have to be enough.

Then Beth witnesses a private act of violence in Jason’s home, and the whole group is shaken. Beth and her friends make a pact to do whatever it takes to protect Jason, no matter the sacrifice. But when even their fierce loyalty isn’t enough to stop Jason from making a life-altering choice, Beth must decide how far she’s willing to go for him—and how much of herself she’s willing to give up.

About the Author

Kelly Loy Gilbert is the author of Conviction, a William C. Morris Award finalist, and Picture Us in the Light, a Stonewall Honor Book and the winner of the California Book Award. She lives in San Francisco Bay Area.


Welcome, Kelly! Thank you so much for joining us.

Q: Beth bases so much of her identity on her friendships, fears people drifting away from her, and cares deeply about and wants to be enough for others – all of which I really identified with. Why was it important to you to tell this story of friendship, self-worth and longing? – Wendy

I think friendship is so so central to the high school experience, and I feel like it often goes so unexamined how you spend years building up this whole world, this whole universe, and then four years later it’s just over. Also, when I was a teenager, there were never books that felt like they could have been about me or the people I grew up with, and I always wanted to tell those stories—the quiet ones about the small tragedies and heroics that happen between people, about people doing their best for each other, and those chasms that can exist despite our best intentions.

Q: Despite the progress made in publishing more diverse YA, it’s still unusual to find contemporary books like yours where everyone among the primary characters is a POC. The idea that whiteness needs to be centered or included in order for a book to be marketable or relatable to a white audience can create a pressure for authors of color to “write white.” That is, writing an all-POC cast can be seen by some as a limitation or liability. However, as a writer myself, I don’t find it limiting at all, but rather full of possibilities. How did the all-Asian cast inform your approach to writing the story and developing the themes you wanted to explore? – Shenwei

It’s interesting because I tried to publish this book years ago, and couldn’t—I don’t know how much race played into it, but isn’t that how it goes sometimes, that you have to wonder? I didn’t have these stories growing up and I longed for them, and I feel a deep debt of gratitude to writers like Ellen Oh, Cindy Pon, and Malinda Lo, whose early work I genuinely believe paved a path for a lot of us writing today. I think one thing that’s often critical to the Asian American experience is the centrality of family, and that dimension in stories about young people is always fascinating to me. I think it’s interesting being from the Bay Area, too, because there’s a huge diversity within the Asian American community.

Q: Another part of Beth’s character which is brought up throughout the book is her underlying anger. Similarly, I appreciated how she made messy choices at times in a way that’s seen as less acceptable for POC in fiction, yet portrayed with so much empathy as she looked back on her younger self and her growth. Was there anything you particularly meant to say or were motivated by in developing these aspects of her character? – Wendy

Her anger was dormant in a lot of drafts and finally came through in the end—I think even as a thirty-something I had a lot of internalized blocks against writing angry teen girls, and especially Asian American ones. But how can you not be angry? I felt it was important, too, to get Beth to a place where she stopped feeling like she didn’t have permission for anger on her own behalf. I think claiming your anger is part of claiming what you’re worth.

Q: This book explores sensitive and difficult topics such as abuse and mental illness that are usually considered taboo within various Asian cultures, a stigma aggravated by the conditions of immigration and racism in the U.S. What do you hope this book will contribute to the ongoing dialogues about trauma and mental illness in Asian American families and communities? – Shenwei

I hope it can be in conversation with books like Ilene Wong’s THIS IS MY BRAIN IN LOVE, Emily x. R. Pan’s THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER, Randy Ribay’s PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING, and other works that explore Asian American mental health and generational trauma. 

This is a spoiler alert and also a content warning- I also felt like I’d not read a lot of stories about characters who nearly died from suicide but then survived.
And I really wanted to write about people who truly faced very real despair and then were able to build a life again after that. I wanted to write a story about hope and resilience and community threaded through the grief and trauma the characters were facing.

Q: Beth’s perspective of her Asian friends and community, and how she sometimes feels a “lack of concrete belonging” with them, is shaped by her mixed-race identity — including her alienation from her grandparents and from Chinese languages. Could you speak to this and how much of yourself was in this aspect of her character? – Wendy

So much! Everyone in the story has a very different family background than mine, but as someone who’s mixed race I have always felt a sense of otherness in nearly every space I’m in—the one frequent exception being my brother, the only person in the word who shares my exact background, ha. Beth’s alienation extends deeper than mine ever has because it’s in so many areas of her life, but I do think there’s a way in which I always feel that possibility of that alienation, the shape of it, if not the thing itself. 

Q: What is your process for naming your characters? The names you chose for the characters in this book felt extremely true to life in representing common naming patterns among East Asians in the English-speaking diaspora, so I was wondering if they were borrowed from real people you know, or chosen from pools of common East Asian American names, or curated based on intangible feelings that they’re the “correct” names for their respective characters based on their vibes, or a combination of any of the above. – Shenwei

My process for naming characters is always the same—I imagine the characters’ parents and delve into their lives enough that I could imagine what they would name a child, either as a baby or later picking an American name, etc. I’m so glad you felt they were representational—I sometimes get scornful questions about names from people who are like, “really, Asian kids named Harry and Regina???” and I’m always like … yes??  ???

Q: Classical music is such an important part of When We Were Infinite. Why did you choose violin as Beth’s particular passion, and what was your research like for this aspect of the book? – Wendy

I watched sooo much violin! It was great—research is always one of my favorite parts of writing. I used to play the flute, but not well, so I had a lot to learn. I chose music because I wanted something that Beth could experience both communally and individually, and also because playing in these prestigious youth symphonies is such a thing in the Asian American communities where I’m from. 

Q: Finally, this is your third published YA novel, and you’ve mentioned that you’ve worked on this book through several years and iterations. What are some aspects of writing craft and publishing which you’ve found challenging, and lessons you’ve learnt, along the way?

I’m always challenged by plot. It took, honestly, years for anything to *happen* in this book. One piece of advice I got craft-wise that was super useful is that every action has to lead to another action, rather than a string of interconnected events. As for publishing—it’s honestly such a strange industry with no apparent analogues I’ve found in other industries. I’m still learning a lot. It’s still a challenge for me to navigate the intersection between story and commerce, I guess. 

Thank you so much for your time and insights, Kelly!

You can find When We Were Infinite at the outlets below:

Barnes & Noble




Find Kelly on:

Twitter: @KellyLoyGilbert

Instagram: @KellyLoyGilbert


More about Kelly’s previous YA novels:


Picture Us in the Light

Asian Settings in Middle Grade – Guest Post by Saadia Faruqi

“As an Asian American author, I’ve mostly written stories set in the U.S. After all, my children – now 11 and 14 years old – were born here, and this is the only world they know. So without really thinking about it, I’ve always gravitated towards writing for kids like mine. First generation. Muslim American. Asian American. South Asian American. American.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing. My kids – and all kids growing up in the U.S. today – need books that center BIPOC characters. They should be reading books that showcase cultural and religious differences yet take nothing away from the story itself. My Yasmin series for beginning readers is a perfect example of this: Yasmin and her family and proud Pakistani Americans and Muslim, but it’s not really mentioned in the books. You see that from the art (by the fabulous Hatem Aly) and from small clues like the words they use or the foods they eat. Yasmin is an ordinary second grader just like every American kid in elementary school, and that’s her appeal.

Somewhere in the last few years, however, I started thinking about why culture is so important in books for kids. I began to wonder why most children’s books in the U.S. are set in the U.S., even though a significant portion of young readers today are immigrants or first generation. I saw my own kids slowly losing their connection to their heritage, especially since we stopped visiting Pakistan as often as we used to. All of this has had a deep impact on me. More and more, I began to consider setting a middle grade novel somewhere else. Somewhere outside America.

And so, A Thousand Questions was born. I’ve set this novel in my birth place of Karachi, Pakistan. It’s the story of a first generation American girl Mimi who visits her grandparents from the first time, and finds everything awful. The heat, the language, the spicy food… everything is foreign. But slowly, these things grow on her, and she becomes close to her new family. She also meets a new friend, Pakistani native Sakina. The contrast between the two girls, their lifestyles, their hopes and dreams… this is what storytelling is all about.

A Thousand Questions isn’t just a friendship story, but one where setting plays a huge part. I could have set the story anywhere on earth, but I chose to place Mimi and Sakina in a land that may seem foreign to some readers. But hopefully they will see the benefit and enchantment of that land, and discover the similarities with their own home. At the end of the day, place is an important part of ourselves… our culture, heritage, memories, perspectives. The non-American settings of our books may be the most important part of the stories we tell, if we allow ourselves to do so.

I choose to allow myself.”

Saadia Faruqi is the author of the Yasmin series by Capstone, and A Place at the Table (co-written with Laura Shovan) by HMH/Clarion. Her new novel A Thousand Questions released in the U.S. on October 6 and will publish in the U.K. on Nov 12. Follow Saadia on Twitter and Instagram @saadiafaruqi.

#AsianLitChat returns in May 2020!

Announcement: #AsianLitChat is returning in May 2020 with a few updates! Instead of an #AsianLitBingo readathon in May, join us in a book recommendation and book anticipation filled #AsianLitChat inspired by our original #AsianLitBingo prompts.

We recognise that accessing books can be a challenge for some during lockdown, so our focus for the 2020 #AsianLitChat is highlighting books by Asian Authors through a month long chat with weekly prompts.

The Hosts:

Meet the Lit CelebrAsian team at our team page. Some team members are taking a short break to focus on work commitments but our active #AsianLitBingo hosts for 2020 include:

Shenwei @ READING (AS)(I)AN (AM)ERICA (#AsianLitBingo Creator)

Glaiza @ Paper Wanderer

Wendy @ Written in Wonder

Janani @ The Shrinkette

Sophia @ Bookwyrming Thoughts

Join us for week 1 of #AsianLitChat kicking off on May 1 on Twitter!

For a sneak peak of each week’s prompts, check them out below:

Week 1 – #AsianLitChat
Week 2 – #AsianLitChat
Week 3 – #AsianLitChat
Week 4 – #AsianLitChat
Week 5 – #AsianLitChat


If you’d still like to base your May reading TBR on our #AsianLitBingo prompts below, feel free to view our board below. Originally designed by Aentee of Read at Midnight.

Alternatively here are some readathons for Asian lit in May you can join in: South Asian Reading Challenge, Year of the Asian, Asian Readathon, and more.

Optional: If you’d like to make a book list or share an interview with an Asian author, feel free to tag us @LitCelebrAsian with #AsianLitChat so we can RT or link your blog post in our May roundup below.

May 2020 – Asian Author / Booklist Blog-Post Roundup:

Watch this space for updates!

Note: Due to different lockdown measures around the world, we’re not able to host book prize giveaways in May 2020 but we hope you can still join us for #AsianLitChat.

May 2020 – Spotlight Pasific Islander Books in Solidarity:

#AsianLitChat spotlights books by Asian authors but we’d love it if readers outside of this chat, would also spotlight books by Pacific Islander authors in May. We don’t use the #AAPI / #APAHM label out of respect for Pacific Islander friends but we also encourage readers to support Pasifika voices and spaces via Our Stories – Tala mai le Moana compiled by Lani Wendt YoungPasifika Tales and the updated resources below.

Alec Te Pohe collected these useful Pasifika lit resources:

– Māori and Pasifika Month Reads via Ruru Reads

– Tina Makereti: five Māori and Pasifika favourites

– Māori (and Pasifika) writing in 2017: Thalia Kehoe Rowden recommends 22 picture books that feature Pasifika and Māori children

– Ministry of Education Pasifika and ESOL resources

HUIA Publishers

– Pacific Island Books

#DVPit and Social Media Self-care: Part 2

This piece is the fifth stop (and part 2 of yesterday’s post) of the Spring 2020 #DVpit Blog Hop! #DVpit is a Twitter pitch event for marginalized authors and/or illustrators. The next event is scheduled for April 22-23. For more information, please visit

Guest Post by Meredith Ireland

Feat. Meredith Ireland

Meredith: Happy… Friday? Is it Friday? Let’s go with Friday. Okay, DVPit is in a few days. Let’s talk about what to do during and after the pitch event for self-care and in general.

Also Meredith: Thanks for having me back. Happy Blursday.

Meredith: Really committing to this format, huh?

Also Meredith: Have to sell it. Okay, so during DVPit you can pitch a project six times. That’s more than enough. You’ll find that one or two pitches gain traction and the rest kind of sit there, but use the six chances to highlight different aspects of your story. Make sure each pitch has the genre/category hashtags because some agents search by them. Tell your followers not to like your pitches if they’re not agents/editors. And definitely pin your favorite/most liked tweet to your profile!

Meredith: How about self-care during the event?

Also Meredith: Drink some water, read a book, go for a walk if you can. It’s both exciting and stressful. If you find yourself unable to breakaway from Twitter, lessen the stress by reading the feed. See what pitches you like. If you think a pitch sounds good reply and let them know. Follow each other. Cheer them on. Quote tweet their pitch without the hashtag for other people to see. I’m now friends with several authors I met during the first DVPit and generally it started with thinking their story sounded cool. You may even find a new critique partner if you both like each other’s concepts. DVPit is NOT just about the number of likes you get.

Meredith: Let’s talk about likes. What do you do if you pitch and don’t get any likes?

Also Meredith: Cry into a bag of chocolate.

Meredith: Other than cry. Be useful, dammit.

Also Meredith: Alright, if you pitch at 8:00am (I recommend not pitching exactly on the hour because people schedule tweets and usually pick the hour itself) and have no agent likes by say 10:30am, try to alter your remaining pitches. Something about them isn’t resonating. There’s an important caveat here, though: some books simply don’t sum up well and some people are better at crafting pitches than others. Querying is always open to you. Twitter pitch events fast track responses, but no matter how good a pitch is, you still have to send materials, so it comes down to what’s in your book, not the number of likes on a tweet.

Meredith: Okay, let’s go to the other extreme: what do you do if you get a ton of likes?

Also Meredith: Absorb the serotonin like it’s the sun’s rays.

Meredith: Are you going to be helpful or…

Also Meredith: I’m serious! Any agent like or editor retweet is a win. These are dark days. CELEBRATE the wins. Enjoy the serotonin. What you did was amazing: you captured the attention of industry professionals (and probably a bunch of randos who don’t understand the pitch contest and give you annoying false hope). Don’t feel like you have to immediately send out your material. You can just enjoy basking in the likes.

Meredith: Okay, after reveling, then what the next day?

Also Meredith: Spreadsheets!

Meredith: Zzzzz

Also Meredith: It’s not (necessarily) sexy, but you need to make a list of every agent who liked your tweet and every editor who retweeted. From there, I recommend creating a spreadsheet with information including the agent, their agency, when you sent the material, when they requested more (fingers crossed), and then when you sent the full. This is self-care. You’ll thank me when you get an offer of rep and you’re not frantically rummaging through your email to see who requested and who you need to notify because maybe you queried them… Mess.

Meredith: Should you send material to every agent who requests?

Also Meredith: Definitely not. Do research first. Querying is the Pit of Despair and takes a toll on your self-esteem as a writer. You don’t want to be in there more than once if you can avoid it. If you have a good fit the first time, there’s a chance you won’t have to query EVER AGAIN. So do your research. Word of mouth is the strongest in this business. Ask around, DM, check AbsoluteWrite for red flag agents. Look at PW sales if it’s an established agent and agency sales if it’s a new agent. See what agencies represent your favorite books in your genre. I’m a fan of making A and B lists of preferred agents and having a mix of those in each query round. That way if you later find out your original query sucked, you didn’t waste your shot with all of your A list agents. If you start getting requests, query the rest of your A list before you send out fulls. But don’t send material to an agent you wouldn’t sign with. That’s not respectful of your time or theirs.

Meredith: That’s good advice.

Also Meredith: I try.

Meredith: So my last question is what do you do if you end up with a ton of likes but ultimately no agent?

Also Meredith: Accept that it’s a let down, because it is. It’s incredibly hard not to compare yourself with others when you start seeing agent signings being announced and even book deals coming quickly out of DVPit. Patience is key, as is the recognition that every road is different for every writer. Some are windier. And even though everyone participating is marginalized, some concepts are still more sellable than others. However, you should look at possible other causes than: this is just a hard sell. The two main culprits are: your query letter needs serious work or, and this one hurts the most, your manuscript needs a lot of work. The silver lining is that all of that agent interest means you have an excellent concept and if you work on your manuscript you’ll likely still have interest. If you interacted with other DVPit participants during the event, hopefully you gained a critique partner.

This is where the community part comes in and why meeting other writers during DVPit is better than likes. You can exchange openings and see if you like each other’s critique styles/materials and then work to better each other’s manuscripts. Take a breath, step away from social media if those announcements after DVPit start getting to you. Then sit and do another revision pass. I’m rooting for you!

Meredith: Thank you for your time. Good luck on revising THE JASMINE PROJECT.

Also Meredith: *sobs into bag of chocolate* I got this.

About the Author

Meredith Ireland is a practicing civil litigation attorney and Young Adult author. Born in Seoul, Korea, she was adopted as a baby by a New York family. Her adoptive father was a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library and no doubt the source of her love of books.

Fate and a variety of questionable choices brought her to Saratoga Springs, New York, where she currently resides with her two children, and two carnival goldfish who will outlive us all. She hopes to one day have a writing treehouse, despite being deathly afraid of birds.

Meredith Ireland is a practicing civil litigation attorney and Young Adult author. Born in Seoul, Korea, she was adopted as a baby by a New York family. Her adoptive father was a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library and no doubt the source of her love of books.

Fate and a variety of questionable choices brought her to Saratoga Springs, New York, where she currently resides with her two children, and two carnival goldfish who will outlive us all. She hopes to one day have a writing treehouse, despite being deathly afraid of birds.

Find Meredith Ireland’s work on her Website and Twitter.

#DVPit and Social Media Self-care: Part 1

This piece is part 1 of the fourth stop in the Spring 2020 #DVpit Blog Hop! #DVpit is a Twitter pitch event for marginalized authors and/or illustrators. The next event is scheduled for April 22-23. For more information, please visit Find part 2 of the final stop here.

Guest Post by Meredith Ireland

Feat. Meredith Ireland

DVPit holds a special place in my heart. I connected with my agent through DVPit, and, in a roundabout way, the Twitter pitch event led to my first book deal. As one of the early success stories, I hope to provide some insight for writers thinking about pitching their books this month.

For those of you unfamiliar, DVPit is special because it’s only for writers who are marginalized and therefore historically underrepresented in publishing. Writers seeking an agent and/or publisher tweet pitches using #DVPit on the designated day for their category—April 22 and 23 this year. If the pitch sounds intriguing to an agent or small press editor, they like the tweet and invite the writer to submit material (from a query letter all the way to a full manuscript so be READY). If an editor from a Big Five publishing house retweets the pitch, it means they want to see the work once the writer is agented. It’s an incredibly valuable and unique part of the event.

This year’s DVPit comes at a precarious time for mental health across the globe, and particularly for Asians/Asian-Americans who, due to Covid and politics, have become target of online trolls. For everyone, social media self-care is necessary. For those participating in DVPit, it’s paramount and the purpose of this post.

In this time of social distancing, I have decided to interview… myself for self-care tips. So this is going to get weird, but it’s cool. Let’s do this.

Meredith: Thanks for being here.

Also Meredith: You’re welcome, but I’m always home these days.

Meredith: Okay, so… social media tips for this trying time. Let’s start generally and work our way to DVPit specifically. What’s the best self-care tip you have for people using Twitter?

Also Meredith: My general policy for Twitter is that the app is a weird little garden you can cultivate to your liking based on what you tweet about and who you follow. The mute and block buttons are your friends. Don’t be afraid to mute words/phrases you find endanger your mental health. See someone being sexist? Well, racism is usually right around the corner—block them preemptively. There’s a reluctance to mute/block accounts probably because most people are kind and polite, but no one deserves your time and some people are specifically on social media to be pieces of sh*t, so mute or block and move on. I’m a fan of blocking because I’m super petty. You’re going to be rude? No angry introvert bunnies for you, lol.

Meredith: How about for writers during *gestures vaguely* all this?

Also Meredith: I would say go easy on yourself. What make us writers is being sensitive to the world around us. That also makes it super hard to write in times like these. If your writing feels unnecessary right now, remember that people need art to escape into or to show them the way out. That hasn’t changed. But don’t be afraid to take a hiatus or set social media time limits if all of this is too overwhelming for your process. Focus apps like Flora help keep me away from my phone, even if it’s just to read a book.

Meredith: Okay, so DVPit specifically—what’s the most important thing to know going in?

Also Meredith: It’s going to sound like a sorority/cult answer…

Meredith: The BEST kind of answer.

Also Meredith: But best thing I got out of DVPit was the DVSquad—the friends I made and community I gained through this. Writing is so solitary. You can go it alone but the whole business is hard on mental health and it’s so much better with a support network—that’s doubly true for marginalized writers. We face unique hurdles in this business. DVPit is a chance to meet other marginalized writers in your same stage who can commiserate with you and cheer you on.

Meredith: Do you feel like writers need to create a “platform” ahead of DVPit?

Also Meredith: Not at all. It’s nice if your tweets show who you are and what you care about. Even though it feels like shouting into an empty room at first, genuine interest comes across. If politics is your thing, go for it. If it’s not, then don’t. Niche interests are cool, and, as we’ve found with baking, sometimes not that niche. The only hard rule is to make sure you have something as your profile pic—anything other than an egg because a lot of people have egg accounts blocked.

Meredith: So you have a Twitter account and you’re marginalized according to Are you ready for DVPit?

Also Meredith: It should go without saying, but somehow it doesn’t: it’s crucial to have a novel actually written, rested, preferably swapped with another writer for comments, and revised. DVPit is your chance to shoot your shot. Too many times I’ll see the same pitch used again and again in different contests and chances are that manuscript wasn’t ready to be pitched. Or even worse, the novel didn’t exist yet. This is not a proving ground for your story idea, it’s for finished works. I’ve definitely pitched too early in Pitmad, so I know it’s HARD to have the excitement of DVPit, the likes flying, and not jump in if you have anything written. But don’t throw away your first online impression. Be ready. There’s another DVPit in the fall.

Meredith: Fine fine, you have a Twitter account, are marginalized, and have a written, polished novel, what should you be doing in these last few days before DVPit?

Also Meredith: You should be tweaking your pitches. The best advice I’ve seen is to show your pitches to someone who has already read your work and someone who doesn’t even know you write. The one who has read it will be able to tell you if the pitch highlights the best aspects. The one who hasn’t read will be able to tell you if your pitch makes sense. Sometimes you’re too close to the work and know all the inferences but anyone else reading is lost. There are tons of resources out there for how to craft a good pitch. In its most basic format it goes: [COMP] meets [COMP] When [inciting incident happens] [MC] must [thing they have to do in your story] or [stakes, what happens if they fail]. The biggest mistake I see are list pitches like: post-apoc world, runs on oil, sword-wielding wild dogs, yellow hurricanes #DVPit #SFF #YA. Those are cool story aspects but they tell us nothing about the conflict or stakes.

Meredith: Alright, I’m sure you have a sourdough starter to check on. Let’s break for today and continue tomorrow with what to do during and after DVPit.

Also Meredith: False, but I should go water my seedlings.

Read onto Part 2 of Social media self-care and #DVPit here!

About the Author

Meredith Ireland is a practicing civil litigation attorney and Young Adult author. Born in Seoul, Korea, she was adopted as a baby by a New York family. Her adoptive father was a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library and no doubt the source of her love of books.

Fate and a variety of questionable choices brought her to Saratoga Springs, New York, where she currently resides with her two children, and two carnival goldfish who will outlive us all. She hopes to one day have a writing treehouse, despite being deathly afraid of birds.

Find Meredith Ireland’s work on her Website and Twitter.

All Who Live on Islands by Rose Lu: Book Review

Today, co-host Wendy has a review of All Who Live on Islands, an essay collection by Rose Lu 陆杨怡 to share with you. Thank you to Victoria University Press for the review copy!

About the book:

All Who Live on Islands introduces a bold new voice in New Zealand literature. In these intimate and entertaining essays, Rose Lu takes us through personal history – a shopping trip with her Shanghai-born grandparents, her career in the Wellington tech industry, an epic hike through the Himalayas – to explore friendship, the weight of stories told and not told about diverse cultures, and the reverberations of our parents’ and grandparents’ choices. Frank and compassionate, Rose Lu’s stories illuminate the cultural and linguistic questions that migrants face, as well as what it is to be a young person living in 21st-century Aotearoa New Zealand.


There were many parts of All Who Live on Islands that I found insightful, including what it is like living in Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand), and the specifics of the author’s experiences as a diasporic Chinese writer. Lu’s prose is captivating, weaving in a range of non-linear memories and reflections into conceptually cohesive essays, and with clever experimentation in the structuring of certain chapters. The reflections on her career and studies were a perceptive and thoughtful read.

For this review, I’ve focused on certain aspects of the book that particularly resonated with me:

The experience of a 1.5 generation migrant

There was one aspect of All Who Live On Islands, intrinsically woven throughout the entirety of the book, that I especially appreciated seeing: the author’s experiences as a 1.5 generation migrant. Lu was born in China and her family migrated to Aotearoa when she was five, the exact same age I was when moving permanently to Australia.

Whilst there are no universal features of any kind of migrant experience, there was an interweaving of the author’s relationship with China and New Zealand in the book that really spoke to me in a way that stories about 2nd-generation Chinese migrants haven’t necessarily been able to in the past — the inclusion of different languages to reflect the reality of conversation and thought in the book, the highlighting of Chinese history and how her family came to leave, the ongoing and nuanced comparison between the two cultures in everyday life.

Photo of All Who Live on Islands on bookshelf, next to Under a Painted Sky, Picture Us in the Light, and Secret of a Heart Note

Regarding the interwoven languages, I found the unapologetic use of (simplified) Chinese characters for Mandarin rather than their romanisations, as per the norm for books in English, really refreshing — I loved being able to read it and understand the actual meaning of what was being said, with all its connotations and depth, rather than guessing the character based on pinyin or drawing inferences solely from English translations. Many readers won’t be able to understand it in the same way, and that’s the exact beauty of the author including this — it’s a reflection of the composition of her own identity and experience, of being part of two cultures’ distinct systems, each with their own uniqueness, where translation cannot carry everything over.

Additionally, the author’s grandparents’ Chongming dialect is woven throughout, and I appreciated this being acknowledged, due to my extended family also speaking two lesser known (in comparison to Mandarin and Cantonese) Chinese dialects — ones which are spoken rather than written, and don’t have standardised systems of romanisation.

Discovery & rediscovery of Chinese society and culture

Like the author’s family, mine made very limited visits to our extended family in China when I was in primary school and high school, and at the time I never really had the chance to experience the country at my own initiative. This changed when I picked up a Chinese major almost by accident at university, and ended up going on a one month in-country study program in China. The immersive experience of language learning, my own explorations, and that period of living in China shaped a slow reframing of the way I thought about my culture and identity.

So I enjoyed reading Lu’s account of returning to mainland China as an adult and her own growth there — allowing me to see a somewhat similar experience through someone else’s eyes. There were several passages I found powerful, but I thought this one was especially worth extracting:

I became more assured about being from Aotearoa and from China — something I repeatedly had to explain to my Pākehā friends, who saw my cultural identity as a needle wavering between the two places. At one point I had seen it that way too, but now I view it as a symbiotic relationship, two twinned vines growing in tandem.

Before I spent this time in China, I had never missed it. I hadn’t known what to miss. I focussed only on its deficits — on the perceived wrongness of somewhere that is different.

(Pages 87-88)

This segueways into an exploration of the Asian New Zealand literary scene and history, and into her development as a writer and the challenge of fitting into a white-dominant space, that is entwined with the exploration of identity which preceded it. That particular chapter — All Who Live on Islands — was my favourite and one I’ve now reread multiple times.

Explorations of friendship and family

In the chapter ‘Alphabet Game’, I enjoyed the author’s reflections on her friendships, with the reality of their intensity and intimacy, the challenges that mental illness poses to it, as well as the difficulty of losing friends. It made me think of the memoir/essay collection No Country Woman by Fijian-Indian author from Australia, Zoya Patel, which also had a chapter on friendship that I really liked. Another chapter is dedicated to her brother, and her relationship with her parents and grandparents is discussed throughout the whole book. In much writing, both fiction and non-fiction, platonic relationships are often not given the attention and respect in the narrative that they are due, and this was a refreshing change.

Lu notes a difference between herself and her parents’ generation — the latter, due to the specifics of their experience migrating to Aotearoa, prioritises family much more, and doesn’t quite recognise the importance of having friends with whom she can share experiences and talk about certain things that she can’t discuss with family. I loved how this articulated something I’d implicitly known but hadn’t quite been able to conceptualise before — as the author says so herself in the book, this is why it can be so important for us all to have mirrors in literature.

Overall thoughts

All Who Live on Islands is a book I would recommend to everyone, regardless of nationality or cultural background — the great thing about memoir is how it speaks so truly and specifically to a person’s experience, enabling it to reshape anyone’s understanding of themselves and their worldview. This also means that if you do share certain aspects of the author’s background — if you’re a 1.5 generation migrant, if you’re from Aotearoa, or similarly went through a re-immersion of your family’s country and culture as an adult — you’ll likely enjoy seeing these experiences depicted in the book, ones that are generally under-represented in media. If you don’t generally read nonfiction/essay collections, don’t be turned off either — the writing is accessible and you’ll be immersed in the narrative and insights.

Where to find All Who Live on Islands:

About the author

Photo of author Rose Lu

Rose Lu is a Wellington-based writer. In 2018 she gained her Masters of Arts in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters and was awarded the Modern Letters Creative Nonfiction Prize. Her work has been published in Sport, The Pantograph Punch, Turbine Kapohau and Mimicry. Her undergraduate degree was in mechatronics engineering, and she has worked as a software developer since 2012.

Find Rose on:



Caster by Elsie Chapman: Lit CelebrAsian Author Interview

CASTER Interview Header

Welcome to our interview with Elsie Chapman to celebrate the release of her new book, Caster! Pitched as a Chinese-inspired Fight Club with magic, it centres on sixteen-year-old Aza Wu, who enters an illegal underground magic casting tournament to save her family legacy and avenge her sister, and is filled with action, magic and twists.

Co-hosts Shenwei and Wendy both loved the book, and below are five reasons they think you should read Caster. For more detail, you can also check out their full reviews — a big thank you to Elsie Chapman and to Scholastic for the ARCs.

Review from Shenwei @ Reading Asian America

Review from Wendy @ Written in Wonder

Reasons to read CASTER:
Read More »

Interview: Marivi Soliven – Author of The Mango Bride

Mango Bride Interview Header

Marivi has authored 17 books. Her debut novel The Mango Bride (Penguin, 2013) won Grand Prize at the Palanca Awards, the Philippine counterpart of the Pulitzer Prize, and has been translated into Spanish and Tagalog. The film adaptation is in production and will premiere in 2020. She is a fierce advocate and organizes literary fundraisers for immigrant survivors of domestic violence, and these efforts have helped, nine immigrant women gain legal residency and escape their abusive marriages. She continues to advocate for immigrant rights and concerns in her day job as a phone interpreter.

What was your favourite part of the writing process behind exploring different perspectives in the Filipino diaspora in The Mango Bride? Are there any other parts of the diaspora experience you’d like to explore in future?

My favourite part of the process was reconstructing the Manila of my childhood – the food, the homes, the women who smoked like chimneys while looking impossibly chic.  I’m still intrigued by the many aspects of the Filipino diaspora and am working on a second novel that portrays the first diasporic wave of Filipino farmworkers in the 20s and 30s.

Did you work as an interpreter impact or change the way you write?Read More »

Asian Lit Bingo 2019 Reading Challenge Announcement and Master Post


We are back in 2019 for #AsianLitBingo – a month-long reading challenge during May! This is the master post with all the information for the reading challenge.


Inspiration and Purpose: In the U.S., the month of May is Asian American Heritage Month*, so we thought, what better way to celebrate than to do a reading challenge that spotlights books with Asian characters and centers Asian voices? In publishing, there are power dynamics in play that marginalize Asian authors, especially those who write Asian characters and draw from their heritage for their writing. In the context of publishing in countries where white people are the majority/dominant group, diaspora Asians in those countries have a hard time breaking into publishing.

In a more global context, Asian writers in Asia have a hard to reaching a wider market beyond regional publishing due to their perceived foreignness, plus a general lack of infrastructure for translations for those that don’t write in English (and many do write in English). There are also double standards in the industry that facilitate publication for white authors writing Asian[-inspired] characters/settings/stories while Asian writers who write from the place of a cultural insider are often told their stories are “too Asian” or “not Asian enough.” For this reason, we feel it is especially important to highlight #ownvoices Asian stories, where the authors share the heritage of the characters they write about.

*May is technically designated as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. However, a number of Pasifika activists and friends have stated that lumping together Asian Americans with Pacific Islanders results in the erasure and co-opting of PIs and that they want to have their own spaces to discuss their issues. We are respecting that and keeping the two separate for this challenge.

We encourage readers to also support Pasifika spaces via Our Stories – Tala mai le Moana compiled by Lani Wendt Young, Pasifika Tales and the updated resources below.

Update: Back in 2017, Alec Te Pohe collected these useful Pasifika lit resources:

Māori and Pasifika Month Reads via Ruru Reads

Tina Makereti: five Māori and Pasifika favourites

Māori (and Pasifika) writing in 2017: Thalia Kehoe Rowden recommends 22 picture books that feature Pasifika and Māori children

Ministry of Education Pasifika and ESOL resources

HUIA Publishers

Pacific Island Books

Kōmako: A Bibliography of Māori writing in English

Asian Lit Bingo Scope:

Aside from the reading challenge, we have planned a few social media events to complement the challenge and celebrate Asian literature in other ways.  If you are an Asian blogger/vlogger/bookstagrammer/etc. and have your own idea for a post/video you want to make about Asian lit, go for it, and feel free to leave a comment here with the link so we can add it to the list. You can use this template for your blog header if you’d like.

The Hosts 

Meet the Lit CelebrAsian team at our team page. Some team members are taking a short break to focus on work commitments but our active #AsianLitBingo hosts for 2019 include:

Shenwei @ READING (AS)(I)AN (AM)ERICA (#AsianLitBingo Creator)

Glaiza @ Paper Wanderer

Janani @ The Shrinkette

Sophia @ Bookwyrming Thoughts

Stephanie @ Igniting Pages

Wendy @ Written in Wonder

Kate @ Snarky Yet Satisfying

Reading Challenge Information

The reading challenge is a general challenge and also a contest with prizes!

The Hashtag

Use the hashtag #AsianLitBingo when posting on Twitter, Instagram or Tumblr about the challenge. Check out what other people are reading and find posts and reviews related to the challenge by searching the hashtag.

The Setup

Similar to the Diversity Bingo challenge, the Asian Lit Bingo challenge takes the form of a bingo board, a 5 by 5 grid with 25 total prompts for books to read. The baseline goal is to read prompts for a single line, vertically, horizontally, or diagonally on the board, for a total of 5 books. Post your progress on Twitter with the hashtag #AsianLitBingo.

Eligible Books:

  • Fiction books should have an Asian main character (can be one of several main characters) and be by an Asian author to qualify. It does not have to be #ownvoices, but reading #ownvoices books is strongly encouraged!
  • Nonfiction books should be by an Asian author with a focus on Asian people, whether it’s a[n] [auto]biography, history book, essay collection, etc. A nonfiction book can count for prompts other than the nonfiction square provided that it that focuses on a person/group that corresponds to that prompt (e.g. an autobiography of a Asian trans woman could count for either the nonfiction category or the LGBTQIAP+ Asian MC category).
  • The free space is for any book with an Asian main character by an Asian author.

Below is the bingo board, designed by Aentee. Note: “MC” stands for “main character” (though as specified above, it can be a book about a real person).


Asian Lit Bingo 2019

Book SuggestionsRead More »