">Henry Lien

Henry Lien, Author

[Originally Published on, April 2018]

AKATA WARRIOR, Nnedi Okorafor

Synopsis: YA fantasy novel about a teenage albino girl in present-day Nigeria plunged into a secret world where all the supernatural elements in Nigerian folklore turn out to be real.

Why I Chose This Book: It included characters and situations that were different from my own background and experience. Okay, I confess, this one’s a bit of a cheat as I read and loved the prior book in the series, AKATA WITCH, which was the first book I read exploring Nigerian lore.

What I Thought: The delightful pandemonium and infinitely inventive worldbuilding make it feel like a Nigerian “Spirited Away.” It also reminds us that diversity doesn’t just refer to the identities of the characters or the authors, it includes diversity in the forms of the stories themselves. This series explodes traditional Western notions of act structure, pacing, and character arcs yet dares you not to be compelled.

THE HATE U GIVE, Angie Thomas

Synopsis: YA novel about a teenage African-American girl who finds her worlds in conflict with each other when her friend is killed by a policeman.

Why I Chose This Book: It included characters and situations that were different from my own background and experience. I also don’t read much contemporary realist fiction.

What I Thought: This book broke my heart, gave me hope, and awed me with its artistry and understanding of human nature. Truly a modern classic.


Synopsis: YA fantasy duology about a motley team of misfits who assemble to pull off a magical heist. A fantasy “Ocean’s 11.”

Why I Chose These Books: I specifically was looking for a book that had been praised for its representation of characters with disabilities because I felt my reading was thin in this area.

What I Thought: These books and these characters drip with charisma. They have a very appealing rock band vibe. The plotting is gripping and the books read like a master class on how to do disability and diversity representation well. Bardugo definitely has a +1 fanboy now.


Synopsis: MG illustrated science fiction novel about a world in which a cosmic event causes different time periods to collide with each other.

Why I Chose This Book: I’d never heard of a book of this format and scale. Not exactly a novel, picture book, or comic but a full 607 page prose work that included 150 luscious full-color illustrations and paintings by the author.

What I Thought: This is the most generous book I’ve read in as long as I can remember. The artwork is easily the equal of Gurney’s “Dinotopia” books in terms of originality and craftsmanship. The worldbuilding is delicious, not just because it brings together dinosaurs, robots, and everything else I care about in one place but because it raises interesting questions about immigration (in that the people have come from not just diverse places but diverse times and have to learn to live together) and the subversive idea that we need not be defined by our histories because history is a living thing that we can engage with.


Synopsis: Adult science-fiction novel about alien invasion set in modern China.

Why I Chose This Book: I usually don’t read hard science-fiction or alien invasion novels, but I’d heard all the buzz. Even President Obama was reading it.

What I Thought: One of the most original and inventive books I have ever read. It reads like a series of delicious thought experiments, each grander and nuttier than the last. The most fun I’ve had reading in years.