Book Review: American Panda by Gloria Chao

American Panda by Gloria Chao

American Panda
by Gloria Chao
Goodreads | Amazon
Series: no
Published: February 6th 2018
Rating: Hao

American Panda is yet another book on my most anticipated of 2018 list. It is the story of seventeen year old Mei who is starting her first year at MIT while still under the strick rule of her very traditional Taiwanese family. This is an #ownvoices book and yes, I read it in one sitting.

I was surprised by this book.  I expected it to be a very light coming of age with a bit of romance thrown in because, you know, that's always fun.  In the end it was the story of a girl trying to figure out who she is and how that affects her relationship with her mother. This is one of the best mother/daughter relationship books that I have read in a long time.

I really liked Mei. She was super relateable. Or at least she was for me. I am a sucker for an introvert reader with a hidden snarky side. She is ackward and shy and never quite sure where she fits in.  I teach at an international school in China and I know that this book will resonate with many of my students who are stradling multiple worlds. 

There is a "child of immigrant in America" aspect of the book which I am not familiar with.  This is the fourth book in a row about children of Asian immigrants where the family pressure is almost a seperate character.  It is something that interests me because I have never felt that pressure.  Even if there had been pressure I was culturally able to shrug it off and go my own way without cosequenses. I love when you read a book with a character who has grown up in a completely different enviroment from you and yet you connect with them as if you could be long lost friends.

Before, I had blamed my culture, but that wasn’t the problem. It was so much more complicated than that. It was a clashing of personalities and interpretations of cultures.

The seconary characters are very well fleshed out and developed. 
Mei's mother is alternatively hilarious, enraging, and terrifying. I feel as if I met her.  And also that she isn't very impressed with me or my life choices. Darren was a nice love interest. He has his own things going on but also seems to genuinely enjoy all of Mei's quirks. That being said my favorite part of their relationship was the fact that he is just a bonus.  He might be a catalyst for change in her life but she doesn't need him. Mei's older brother Xing was admirable in his determination to be true to what he wanted and needed from life. 

There is a bunch of Mandarin (pinyun not characters) sprinkled throughout the book and most of it you sort of have to infer the mean from the context of the sentence.  I like when books do this. If you are not part of the Taiwanese culture you can look up the words easily enough and if you are it is like a secret handshake with the author.  

This is Gloria Chao's first novel and I hope not her last.  Her warm sense of humor and unique voice are a great addition to the YA book world. I will be on the lookout for what she does next.

From Goodreads:

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?