The Best Second-Generation Stories To Read This Summer

·7-min read

Welcome to Hot Book Summer. From books about queer joy to snappy page turners you can read in a weekend, true crime books without the violence against women to Unbothered's picks of the best books written by Black women now, R29 has got your summer reading list sorted.

While many people prefer their beach books to be light and lol-inducing, others like their summer reads to be thought-provoking and personal. Sure, a tale about a twentysomething caught up in a love triangle can kill a couple of hours but it isn’t going to stay with you in the same way that a true story will, or at least one based on a real-life collective experience.

For some authors, growing up as part of a second-generation immigrant family has shaped their views on storytelling, forming the basis of novels and personal histories alike. Encompassing the complexities and joys of living in a different country from their parents or grandparents, these books are a welcome exploration of family, home and the meaning of identity.

Sometimes discussed through memoir and other times through first-person fiction, these stories pull on both personal struggles and the wider experiences of first and second-generation families. While some stories delve into the feeling of being ‘othered’, other tales rejoice in the power of duality, exploring the ways in which understanding two cultures can better our views of the world.

From emotional and uplifting memoirs about the power of traditional home-cooked meals to novels about alienation and intolerance, these are the best second-generation stories to read this summer…

At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn a commission.

<strong><em>Afterparties</em> by Anthony Veasna So</strong><br><br>If novels aren’t your thing, <em>Afterparties</em> is the perfect collection of humorous and poignant short stories about the lives of Cambodian Americans. Set across California, each individual tale dives into the complexities of life as a child of immigrants in the US. From a queer romance detailing the relationship between a Silicon Valley tech head and a young teacher to an emotional story about a child and a mother discussing surviving a mass shooting, the collection darts between darkness and light. Though it has humour at its core, <em>Afterparties'</em> power comes from its discussions around intergenerational trauma and what it means to grow up with parents who were the victims of a horrifying genocide.<br><br><em>Available to purchas</em>e<em> 3rd August.</em><br><br><strong>Anthony Veasna So</strong> Afterparties, $, available at <a href="https://www.waterstones.com/book/afterparties/anthony-veasna-so/9781611856514" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Waterstones" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Waterstones</a>
Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So

If novels aren’t your thing, Afterparties is the perfect collection of humorous and poignant short stories about the lives of Cambodian Americans. Set across California, each individual tale dives into the complexities of life as a child of immigrants in the US. From a queer romance detailing the relationship between a Silicon Valley tech head and a young teacher to an emotional story about a child and a mother discussing surviving a mass shooting, the collection darts between darkness and light. Though it has humour at its core, Afterparties' power comes from its discussions around intergenerational trauma and what it means to grow up with parents who were the victims of a horrifying genocide.

Available to purchase 3rd August.

Anthony Veasna So Afterparties, $, available at Waterstones
<strong><em>Sankofa</em> by Chibundu Onuzo</strong><br><br>Discussing the pain of not knowing a parent, <em>Sankofa</em> explores race and identity through the lens of a middle-aged, mixed-race British woman. Following Anna as she embarks on a self-discovery journey, the story begins as she processes the aftermath of her divorce and her mother's death. While cleaning out her belongings, Anna happens upon the journals of her African father who she never knew, which detail his life in London in the 1970s, including his involvement in politics. Through her reading, she discovers that her father eventually became the president of Bamana, west Africa, which many people viewed negatively. Deciding to track him down in search of answers about his life, her heritage and the potential for a relationship, <em>Sankofa</em> asks all the right questions about how our parents shape our lives.<br><br><em>Available to purchase now.</em><br><br><strong>Chibundu Onuzo</strong> Sankofa, $, available at <a href="https://uk.bookshop.org/books/sankofa/9780349013152?aid=4756" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:bookshop.org" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">bookshop.org</a>
Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo

Discussing the pain of not knowing a parent, Sankofa explores race and identity through the lens of a middle-aged, mixed-race British woman. Following Anna as she embarks on a self-discovery journey, the story begins as she processes the aftermath of her divorce and her mother's death. While cleaning out her belongings, Anna happens upon the journals of her African father who she never knew, which detail his life in London in the 1970s, including his involvement in politics. Through her reading, she discovers that her father eventually became the president of Bamana, west Africa, which many people viewed negatively. Deciding to track him down in search of answers about his life, her heritage and the potential for a relationship, Sankofa asks all the right questions about how our parents shape our lives.

Available to purchase now.

Chibundu Onuzo Sankofa, $, available at bookshop.org
<strong><em>Coconut</em> by Florence Olajide </strong><br><br>In a moving memoir, Florence Olajide discusses her life as a Black foster child in Britain, her eventual move to Nigeria and the two families that shaped her. Starting out in 1963, Florence details her memories of being fostered by a white family in north London, who referred to her only as 'Ann'. Years later, during a visit with her birth parents, she was told she wouldn't ever return to her foster family and moved to Lagos with her mother, father and three siblings. Discussing her difficulties as an outsider in both worlds, <em>Coconut </em>explores the internal confusion Florence faced as a young child and how her relationship with identity went on to shape her life.<br><em><br>Available to purchase 13th July.</em><br><br><br><strong>Florence Olajide</strong> Coconut, $, available at <a href="https://www.waterstones.com/book/coconut/florence-olajide/9781909770652" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Waterstones" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Waterstones</a>
Coconut by Florence Olajide

In a moving memoir, Florence Olajide discusses her life as a Black foster child in Britain, her eventual move to Nigeria and the two families that shaped her. Starting out in 1963, Florence details her memories of being fostered by a white family in north London, who referred to her only as 'Ann'. Years later, during a visit with her birth parents, she was told she wouldn't ever return to her foster family and moved to Lagos with her mother, father and three siblings. Discussing her difficulties as an outsider in both worlds, Coconut explores the internal confusion Florence faced as a young child and how her relationship with identity went on to shape her life.

Available to purchase 13th July.



Florence Olajide Coconut, $, available at Waterstones
<strong><em>Crying In H Mart </em>by Michelle Zauner</strong><br><br>Already set to become a <a href="https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/movies/movie-news/crying-in-h-mart-movie-1234963458/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:major motion picture" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">major motion picture</a>, <em>Crying in H Mart</em> charts the emotional life story of Michelle Zauner (from the band Japanese Breakfast). Centring around her experiences as a Korean American woman, the memoir is a perfect mishmash of commentary on everything from the excruciating nature of puberty to the story of how she met her husband. But it's the experiences of food that bind the book together, chronicling the late-night cooking sessions with her mother while they visited her grandmother in Seoul. Eventually discussing her disconnection and reconnection with her Asian American identity in the wake of tragedy, this memoir is an exploration of the cherished gifts that can be gained from second cultures.<br><em><br>Available to purchase 5th August.</em><br><br><strong>Michelle Zauner</strong> Crying in H Mart, $, available at <a href="https://uk.bookshop.org/books/1605064150_crying-in-h-mart/9781529033779" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:bookshop.org" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">bookshop.org</a>
Crying In H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Already set to become a major motion picture, Crying in H Mart charts the emotional life story of Michelle Zauner (from the band Japanese Breakfast). Centring around her experiences as a Korean American woman, the memoir is a perfect mishmash of commentary on everything from the excruciating nature of puberty to the story of how she met her husband. But it's the experiences of food that bind the book together, chronicling the late-night cooking sessions with her mother while they visited her grandmother in Seoul. Eventually discussing her disconnection and reconnection with her Asian American identity in the wake of tragedy, this memoir is an exploration of the cherished gifts that can be gained from second cultures.

Available to purchase 5th August.


Michelle Zauner Crying in H Mart, $, available at bookshop.org
<em><strong>My Broken Language: A Memoir </strong></em><strong>by Quiara Alegría Hudes </strong><br><br>If coming-of-age stories are your books of choice, then Quiara Alegría Hudes' memoir about her young life and finding her voice is exactly what you need. Growing up with a Jewish atheist father and a devoutly religious Puerto Rican mother, Quiara found her identity as a young person entirely confusing. When her dad was home, the entire house spoke English; when he left, her mother filled her north Philadelphia home with Spanish. As an adult, she began to reflect on what it meant to be raised in different cultures and how the strong women in her life had moulded her. Embarking on a journey to find her own personal truth, the memoir speaks to the power of art and what the meaning of home really represents.<br><br><em>Available to purchase now.</em><br><br><strong>Quiara Alegria Hudes</strong> My Broken Language: A Memoir, $, available at <a href="https://uk.bookshop.org/books/my-broken-language-a-memoir-9780008464622/9780008464622" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:bookshop.org" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">bookshop.org</a>
My Broken Language: A Memoir by Quiara Alegría Hudes

If coming-of-age stories are your books of choice, then Quiara Alegría Hudes' memoir about her young life and finding her voice is exactly what you need. Growing up with a Jewish atheist father and a devoutly religious Puerto Rican mother, Quiara found her identity as a young person entirely confusing. When her dad was home, the entire house spoke English; when he left, her mother filled her north Philadelphia home with Spanish. As an adult, she began to reflect on what it meant to be raised in different cultures and how the strong women in her life had moulded her. Embarking on a journey to find her own personal truth, the memoir speaks to the power of art and what the meaning of home really represents.

Available to purchase now.

Quiara Alegria Hudes My Broken Language: A Memoir, $, available at bookshop.org
<strong><em>Lives Like Mine</em> By Eva Verde</strong><br><br>At the best of times, being a good parent, partner and child can be a tricky balancing act but when it is your entire life, it can become all-consuming. This is the case for Monica, who begins to question whether her domestic life is actually making her happy. As a mother of three mixed-race children, the daughter of an immigrant and the wife of a man who refuses to call out his family’s prejudices, her relationship with autonomy and identity feels fraught. But when she begins a secret affair with a parent at her children's school, she finally begins to take control of her own life. Connecting on a deeper level than she ever anticipated, the relationship soon becomes the catalyst for change she's been craving for so long. <br><br><em>Available to purchase now.</em><br><br><strong>Eva Verde</strong> Lives Like Mine, $, available at <a href="https://uk.bookshop.org/books/lives-like-mine-9781398502826/9781398502826" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:bookshop.org" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">bookshop.org</a>
Lives Like Mine By Eva Verde

At the best of times, being a good parent, partner and child can be a tricky balancing act but when it is your entire life, it can become all-consuming. This is the case for Monica, who begins to question whether her domestic life is actually making her happy. As a mother of three mixed-race children, the daughter of an immigrant and the wife of a man who refuses to call out his family’s prejudices, her relationship with autonomy and identity feels fraught. But when she begins a secret affair with a parent at her children's school, she finally begins to take control of her own life. Connecting on a deeper level than she ever anticipated, the relationship soon becomes the catalyst for change she's been craving for so long.

Available to purchase now.

Eva Verde Lives Like Mine, $, available at bookshop.org
<em><strong>Transcendent Kingdom </strong></em><strong>by Yaa Gyasi</strong><br><br>Many films have portrayed the harrowing opioid crisis in the US but <em>Transcendent Kingdom</em> promises to illuminate this devastating subject matter on the page. Following a woman named Gifty, the story charts her journey to understanding her family's past traumas and subsequent difficulties in the American South. Having grown up hearing stories of her family’s voyage from Ghana to Alabama, Gifty found solace in the idea of people following their dreams. But as an adult, she wrestles with the realities of being an immigrant which claimed the lives of her father and brother. A searing portrait of loss, this novel also stands as an account of the collective struggles of immigrant families in the US and how they continue to affect people through generations.<br><br><em>Available to purchase now.</em><br><br><strong>Yaa Gyasi</strong> Transcendent Kingdom, $, available at <a href="https://uk.bookshop.org/books/transcendent-kingdom/9780241433379?aid=246" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:bookshop.org" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">bookshop.org</a>
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Many films have portrayed the harrowing opioid crisis in the US but Transcendent Kingdom promises to illuminate this devastating subject matter on the page. Following a woman named Gifty, the story charts her journey to understanding her family's past traumas and subsequent difficulties in the American South. Having grown up hearing stories of her family’s voyage from Ghana to Alabama, Gifty found solace in the idea of people following their dreams. But as an adult, she wrestles with the realities of being an immigrant which claimed the lives of her father and brother. A searing portrait of loss, this novel also stands as an account of the collective struggles of immigrant families in the US and how they continue to affect people through generations.

Available to purchase now.

Yaa Gyasi Transcendent Kingdom, $, available at bookshop.org
<strong><em>Of Women and Salt </em>by Gabriela Garcia</strong><br><br>Gabriela Garcia’s latest novel, while speaking to the experiences of the second generation, takes things one step further by charting the lineage of five women. Set across multiple time periods, <em>Of Women and Salt</em> bases itself around the passing down of one book between family members from the 19th century to the present day. Beginning in a cigar factory in Cuba in 1866, the book explores the lives of women through marriages, motherhood, political upheaval and emigration. Eventually, in present-day America, it follows Carmen's daughter Jenette as she embarks on a journey to visit her grandma in Cuba. While an exciting prospect for Jenette, the news leaves Carmen confronting her displacement and the long line of women who raised her. <br><br><em>Available to purchase now.</em><br><br><strong>Gabriela Garcia</strong> Of Women and Salt: A Novel, $, available at <a href="https://uk.bookshop.org/books/of-women-and-salt-a-novel/9781529031515" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:bookshop.org" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">bookshop.org</a>
Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia

Gabriela Garcia’s latest novel, while speaking to the experiences of the second generation, takes things one step further by charting the lineage of five women. Set across multiple time periods, Of Women and Salt bases itself around the passing down of one book between family members from the 19th century to the present day. Beginning in a cigar factory in Cuba in 1866, the book explores the lives of women through marriages, motherhood, political upheaval and emigration. Eventually, in present-day America, it follows Carmen's daughter Jenette as she embarks on a journey to visit her grandma in Cuba. While an exciting prospect for Jenette, the news leaves Carmen confronting her displacement and the long line of women who raised her.

Available to purchase now.

Gabriela Garcia Of Women and Salt: A Novel, $, available at bookshop.org

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