In 2019, approximately only 9% of main characters in U.S. books were of Asian descent, 12% were Black, and only 3% of total books included a LGBTQIAP+ character (CCBC).
When minority kids do not see themselves in the books they read and the media they consume, they begin to feel like their stories don’t matter. Act To Change’s Managing Director Belinda Lei felt the same way growing up, and she is now changing the narrative for the next generation, with her best-selling debut novel, Not THAT Rich.
Gossip Girl meets Crazy Rich Asians in this satirical, juicy and dramatic debut novel about a group of private high schoolers in an affluent Southern Californian suburb. The novel reached Amazon’s #1 New Release and #1 Bestselling status within a week of publishing for Asian American YA Fiction and Immigration & Emigration Fiction.
Having been raised to almost imitate the model minority stereotype—the myth that all Asian Americans are a law-abiding, hardworking, overachieving, silent, and also (in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic) a virus-spreading minority group, Belinda is hoping to shatter the model minority myth with her novel while also supporting AAPI youth in her role as Managing Director of Act To Change.
In a recent blog post about “Why it’s important to have a diverse bookshelf,” Belinda writes:
“By writing Not THAT Rich, I wanted to present a set of fun (and dramatic!) experiences that also exposed young adult readers to a cast of characters that reflected my world growing up – one that reflected the ethnic suburban enclaves that were part of my world. My hope for the book is that it emphasizes the diversity of Asian American culture, but also offers up the common challenges that teenagers all experience today – educational and familial pressures, identity struggles, and peer pressure.”
Having been brought up in a strong Asian American community like the San Gabriel Valley, Belinda got to witness firsthand the many different shades of being an Asian American as the daughter of first-generation Chinese immigrants. And many around her face the following dilemmas:
- Where is personal identity in between two distinctly different cultural identities?
- What does it really mean to be Asian American?
- What’s the right way to be Asian American?
These are the questions that many characters in Not THAT Rich ask themselves on a regular basis. The truth is that there is no one single, or one correct way to be Asian American. That’s the myth that Belinda’s book is aiming to change.
Every Asian American, every child, every person has a unique identity and story, and there is no need to fit into a mold. Not THAT Rich inspires every child to shine and be their true selves without any qualms.