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.