This post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase using that link, a small commission is made from the sale. There are no additional costs to you. Thank you for your support!American Panda by Gloria Chao
Published by Simon Pulse on February 6, 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Representation: Taiwanese American
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 one of the books I needed my entire life.
Gloria Chao’s debut novel is about Mei, a Chinese-American teen who has no desire to be the doctor her parents want and a crush on a boy who wouldn’t get a parental stamp of approval. Her older brother, Xing, is disowned by the family for falling in love with the wrong person, and a few meetups with him to reconnect makes her question the traditions her parents were teaching her while growing up.
I related to Mei so, so much.
95% of the time growing up and now I feel like I’m alone in my experiences – American Panda reminded me that I’m not alone. At all. There are other people like me who go through relatively similar experiences! 😭😭😭 (Honestly, I want to cry happy tears the entire time reading.)
And while my experiences aren’t the same as Mei, it hit close to my heart with her struggles to choose between fulfilling her parents’ dreams and what her heart wants. Mei’s struggle is something I continue to struggle with, along with balancing two different cultures.
Cute, adorable, hilarious.
On top of relating to virtually every page, paragraph and line in the novel, there’s a cute and adorable romance! I loved reading the moments between Darren and Mei.
But while American Panda is all three of those traits, it can also be heavy and emotional later on as Mei is having an internal struggle with herself, and eventually external with her family members. If you are expecting a fluffy contemporary read when going into this novel, you will find yourself a little disappointed.
But sometimes it wasn’t funny.
There were a few moments in the book where I felt the novel was not funny – most of that occurred near the end. While I understand the approach was meant to be comedic, I felt like it played into the Asian stereotypes a little too much. It also felt like Chao was trying too hard (and maybe that was intentional?) with some of those scenes. At the same time though, most of the stereotypes I feel were handled well by Chao. Again, I’m only one Chinese-American – my experiences compared to another will be different.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed American Panda and how it deals with the struggles of Chinese-American teens growing up.
While this specifically deals with one Chinese-American experience (and as noted by the author, Mei’s experience is taken from many backgrounds and fictionalized), I think a lot of teens will relate to the book in other ways.