Plano’s stories that sell: Lyla Lee creates comfort in characters

Author Lyla Lee in font of a blue wall. Photography by CJ Lee
Lyla Lee author of two YA books, I Should Be the One and Flip the Script. I Should Be the One and the middle grade series featuring Mindy Kim. Photography by CJ Lee

As a young girl, Lyla Lee could often be found in the Davis Library, her head stuck in a young adult novel all afternoon.

Originally from South Korea, Lee moved around frequently in her childhood before settling down in Plano and found comfort in books.

“Books have friends that you can take along for the ride,” Lee says. “I always wanted to write the books that make other people feel less lonely as well.”

Lee wrote her first book while in the eighth grade at Rice Middle School, and she quickly learned the publishing game wasn’t as easy as she’d hoped.

“Of course, it didn’t get anywhere, but it was a very long process of learning the craft,” Lee says. “I’m self-taught. I basically learned how to revise and do all the stuff I needed to do in high school until I got an agent after college.”

Lee was naturally drawn to novels for younger audiences, and has published over 40,000 copies in multiple languages of her two YA novels and nine books for elementary readers and will soon publish a novel for her new middle-level series.

Her elementary-level series, Mindy Kim, features a young Asian American girl as she grapples with typical childhood topics from her cultural perspective.

Mindy Kim’s adventures with school lunches, holidays and vacations were inspired by the books Lee read herself as a kid, like Junie B. Jones and The Magic Treehouse.

Lee has also written two YA books, I Should Be the One and Flip the Script. I Should Be the One is a romcom-esque drama featuring aspiring K-Pop singer Skye Shin as she navigates Korean beauty standards and the K-Pop industry. Flip the Script dials up the romance with protagonist Hana as she navigates the contract romance required of her new TV-show gig while falling for her on-screen rival.

Though many of her characters are very different from herself, Lee hopes that young girls find a sense of representation in her novels.

“All of my books feature Korean American protagonists because, even though I grew up with very good books, there wasn’t that much representation,” Lee says. “I didn’t see books with people that looked like me, so I really want to help diversify the shelves so that teens today see themselves in books.”

Being Korean-American isn’t the only thing that Lee and her characters have in common. Mindy Kim, Skye Shin and Hana are all goal-driven characters, something that Lee has noticed readers appreciate.

“I’m very ambitious,” Lee says. “I decided randomly in the fourth grade that I wanted to be an author, and I’ve been pursuing that ever since. I feel like that’s very much like my characters.”

Lee has just returned from a book research trip to South Korea, where she is working on her 10th Mindy Kim book. Lee also is working on a mid-level book series geared toward 8th-12th graders starting with GiGi Shin is Not a Nerd, which will be available in spring 2024. Lee is also anticipating a new project called The Cuffing Game, which she describes as a novel K-drama take on Pride and Prejudice if Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy were forced to work on an LGBTQ-friendly Love Island-esque reality TV show. The Cuffing Game is slated for winter 2025.

Lee’s books can be found on Bookshop, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Target, Indiebound or Book Depository. Lee also offers signed books at Bibliobar (located in Plano Shopping Co-Op downtown), Pantego Books in Dalworthington Gardens, Book People in Austin and a few stores in New York City.

Three book covers of Mindy Kim series
Mindy Kim middle grade series by Lyla Lee courtesy of
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