Published by Simon Pulse on February 6th 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
My content rating: YA (Nothing more than kissing)
An incisive, laugh-out-loud contemporary debut about a Taiwanese-American teen whose parents want her to be a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her squeamishness with germs and crush on a Japanese classmate.
At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents' master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.
With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can't bring herself to tell them the truth--that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.
But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?
American Panda is a truly authentic exploration of the cultural clash that happens for many young Asian Americans whose parents hold tight to their roots. The book is obviously deeply personal, and it resonates with the reader because of that.
What Fed My Addiction:
- Cultural ties. As I said in my intro, this book presents the issue of growing up in America, surrounded by American culture and values, and how that can be difficult with first-generation parents who were raised with a completely different set of values and cultural mores. Mei has always been a “good girl.” She has tried hard to please her parents, and she sees the value in their deeply seeded Taiwanese culture. At the same time, she struggles to find herself when her parents’ expectations start to clash with her own wants and needs. She has to decide if she will live for her parents or live for herself—a question that might seem simple from an outside perspective, but is anything but. Seeing the world through Mei’s eyes, you can’t help but sympathize with her and understand the struggle that she goes through daily to fit into two very different worlds.
- Family ties. Mei’s relationships with her family truly take center stage in this book, and those ties are complicated, to say the least. Her brother has been cut off from the family for years, and Mei’s feelings about that are difficult to parse. On the one hand, she was relatively young when it happened and she didn’t feel like she had much control over the situation (not to mention the fact that the only perspective she got was her parents’). But now that Mei is older, she sees her brother and her family’s banishment of him very differently. Mei’s relationship with her mother is also a key component of the book, and it was beautiful to see that relationship transform as the book went on.
- All the feels. This book is funny, but it’s also so much more than that—Mei’s personal journey isn’t always easy, and you can expect to get wrapped up in it in a hundred different ways!
What Left Me Hungry for More:
- Not much focus on the romance. The romance is actually much less a focus of the book than I thought it would be (which is fine but just surprised me). I just never completely felt a connection between Darren and Mei, but they were cute together! I also felt like the plot itself was a bit lacking in the middle of the book—it’s more of a character-centric story than a plot-based one—but that was minor.
This is one of those books that I would encourage everyone to read because it gives such insight into a cultural perspective many of us might not otherwise experience, and it gives many YA readers who have experienced this cultural clash a glimpse of themselves on the page. I look forward to reading more by Gloria Chao!
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
About the Author
Gloria Chao is an MIT grad turned dentist turned writer. AMERICAN PANDA is her debut novel, coming out February 6, 2018 from Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster.
Gloria currently lives in Chicago with her ever-supportive husband, for whom she became a nine-hole golfer (sometimes seven). She is always up for cooperative board games, Dance Dance Revolution, or soup dumplings. She was also once a black belt in kung-fu and a competitive dancer, but that side of her was drilled and suctioned out.
I actually am always looking for a good read where the romance isn’t one of the main focuses, or is really in the background of a novel. So that actually is a plus point for me on this one. I also always enjoy books which discuss cultural themes, and this is a cultural tie which many people experience at the moment today with moving happening so frequently! Great review x
My recent post: http://oliviascatastrophe.com/2018/01/life-lately-december-january/
I think you’ll really enjoy this one then!
This book is one of my most anticipated reads for 2018. I love experiencing and learning about new cultures and this character sounds really well drawn and fun to get to know.
I hope you love it!
This book sounds excellent!! There’s so much good YA coming out at the moment, I don’t even know what to do with myself. Off to add this one to the TBR!
I agree! There are so many amazing books out that it can be overwhelming!
What a gorgeous cover and I love the diverse culture 🙂 I am trying to increase my diverse reads this year and this would be a great one to add to the list! Thanks for sharing it 🙂
This book would be perfect for that!
I really enjoyed this book, but I also would have liked to have seen a little more of the romance (Darren was so wonderful) ALTHOUGH I understand that it was not the focus of the story, but rather it was Mei’s coming of age tale, and it was just part of it. A solid debut anyhow.
I think I had to reset my expectations a bit when it came to the romance, but I still loved the book overall.
That was such a great review, Nicole! I have been anticipating this one for a little while now, because it sounds exactly like my kind of book: with a great emphasis on family ties and influences, sweet, funny and also kind of cute. I’m sorry to hear you didn’t feel the romance connection too much, but it’s also great to see that this book doesn’t focus on it, but on the character’s journey 🙂
Great review! 🙂
Yes, I think if you go into the book with the mindset that it’s not a romance, you’ll be just fine.
This is one I really want to get for my school library. I think it is on my next order list. Great review, totally makes me glad I’ve got it on the list.
Yes! I think it would be perfect for a school library.
I would have loved a little more on the romance front too Nicole! I did like that there wasn’t a lot of drama on that front, it felt real to me, (you avoid drama in romance when it’s too much in other aspects of your life) but I could have used more than just meet cute. Actually hanging with Darren and Nic would have been fun. ♥️ Great review!
Yeah, I didn’t connect to that aspect of the book much, and I was expecting more of it. But still a great book!