Reading Without Walls: Henry Lien’s Recommendations for Books that Break Down Walls

Reading Without Walls: Henry Lien’s Recommendations for Books that Break Down Walls


Bookish is thrilled to be entering the month of April. The days are warmer and brighter, and it marks the start of one of our favorite events of the season: Gene Luen Yang’s annual Reading Without Walls challenge. Each year Yang encourages readers to broaden their horizons and pick up books that fit one of these three criteria: A book about a character who doesn’t look or live like you, a book about a topic you don’t know much about, or a book in a format that you don’t normally read. Members of the Bookish team aren’t the only ones excited about this event. Henry Lien, author of Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword, has already started his challenge! Here, Lien shares five books that he read in honor of Reading Without Walls.

Join the conversation and share the books you’re reading by using #ReadingWithoutWalls.

The Hate U Give

Angie Thomas’ young adult novel is 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 realistic fiction.

What I thought

This book broke my heart, gave me hope, and awed me with its artistry and understanding of human nature. It’s truly a modern classic.

Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic

Timeless is a middle grade illustrated science fiction novel about a world in which a cosmic event causes different time periods to collide.

Why I chose this book

I’d never heard of a book of this format and scale. It is 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 James Gurney’s Dinotopia series 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.

Akata Warrior

This is a young adult fantasy novel about a teenage albino girl in present-day Nigeria who is plunged into a secret world where all the supernatural elements in Nigerian folklore turn out to be real.

Why I chose this book

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.

Six of Crows series

This is a young adult fantasy duology about a motley team of misfits who assemble to pull off a magical heist—a fantasy Ocean’s 11.

Why I chose this series

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 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. Leigh Bardugo definitely has a +1 fanboy now.


The Three-Body Problem

This is an 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

This is 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. It’s the most fun I’ve had reading in years.

Henry Lien is a 2012 graduate of Clarion West, and his short fiction has appeared in publications like Asimov’s, earning several Nebula Award nominations. Born in Taiwan, Henry currently lives in Hollywood, California. He is the author of Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword.


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