Title: American Panda
Author: Gloria Chao
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Publisher: Simon Pulse
**Going to be upfront, not my best review, but please bare with me! Being better at reviewing is one of my goals this year and unfortunately I’m already a little behind. Any tips on keeping up with reviews? And remembering what you want to say?
American Panda by Gloria Chao is a fun (albeit at times frustrating—I’m looking at you Mei’s family) read that I felt completely charmed by.
At seventeen, Mei should be enjoying her last year of high school—prom, hanging out with friends, football games. But things like that were never on her parents’ radar; instead she skipped a grade, is starting college at MIT, and on track to become a doctor, marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, and have a bunch of babies (sons preferably).
Oh did I mention she’s terrified of germs. And her real passion is dance?
Ever since her older brother was disowned, Mei has been terrified of telling her parents the truth and disappointing them. But with the start of college, she starts to reconsider…and it obviously has nothing to do with classmate Darren Takahashi, who is not Taiwanese.
So much of this novel is set around the Taiwanese culture and values Mei’s parents hold onto and enforce, while Mei more so just goes through the motions.
Mei starts the book very subservient, and while she does disagree and rebel against her parents wishes, she does so in very small ways or does her best to hide it. She’s terrified of being disowned like her brother and losing her parents love. But that gets harder for her throughout the novel.
“And right now I had no idea where I ended and my parents began.”
And as she finds herself released from this internal conflict, the conflict with her parents really reaches a climax, the biggest point of tension being her mom. Scenes between the two of them gutted me because you can feel the love there and you can see how much Mei is trying, but her mother is very harsh and demanding of her on every level—school, looks, attitude, “future husbands.”
I will say though, I love all the voicemails from her mom you get between each chapter. She’s soooo over the top with them.
It made me really feel for Mei, because while it was enlightening and amazing to be introduced to a culture I don’t belong to and am not overly familiar with, her situation with her parents still felt relatable (just maybe on a less extreme level).
And while I will say this book had great character development, both in Mei and other characters, I didn’t always enjoy the methods. With Mei especially, a lot of her “moments of realization” that pushed her further and further from being unquestionably compliant with her parents were through connecting with other Asian characters—some Taiwanese, some not.
Which fine, I get that it’s important for her to see other Asian families don’t necessarily operate the same way as hers, but we get at least four or five of these characters who pop up for a page or two and then are never seen or heard from again. In one instance it was especially weird because it was her one friend from high school who she goes to visit, but we never get further mention of—not even of a text or call.
Darren was a cutie. Kind of reminded me of Levi from Fangirl, anyone else? We don’t get too deep with him or even their relationship really. He is there for her in some key moments and accepts her and likes her the way she is (which is a big thing considering the negative feedback Mei gets from her mom). All in all, a very sweet couple, but not my like die hard OTP.