Title: American Panda
Author: Gloria Chao
Category: Young Adult
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?
Y’all, THIS IS WHY WE NEED MORE DIVERSE BOOKS. I absolutely loved reading about Chinese traditions, beliefs and myths. Not only that, this book portrays how it is to be of two cultures, to be a mix of two worlds and manage it, or maybe not manage it. I loved every single aspect of this book, so let’s move on to some of them specifically.
We follow Mei as she tries to be the Perfect DaughterTM, uphold all the traditions and yet try to have fun. We see her struggle with the strict rules put on her by her parents right from the beginning—her parents subtly let her know that they’ll be checking up with her every week during college, which is easy since they don’t live very far.
Mei is on a short leash, and she wants to make the best of it.
The story is about her trying to break free of restrictions and still be a part of her family. Especially after her brother Xing defied everyone and married a woman who can’t conceive because of love, and got disowned for it. The stakes and high for Mei.
In the midst of all that is the cute romance between her and Darren Takahashi, whom her mother does NOT approve because of historical politics between their races.
Mei was very relatable, at least to me. Considering a lot of the restrictions put on her and all the expectations she has to fulfill is pretty close to Indian ones, I really understood her. She loves her family but is also very aware of their old beliefs which will not work in the modern American society. It’s also because she loves them that until now she hasn’t done anything against their wishes—which makes her feel very trapped studying something she doesn’t like, not talking to the brother she loves and not being able to hang out with guys freely.
Mei’s family are dramatic. That’s how it would seem to anyone who hasn’t actually witnessed these beliefs in real life, but I assure you, it’s really not. Because it’s an own voices book, all the things are put in where otherwise it might have not been because, I think, people might not think this actually happens.
After I read the book, I saw a review on it by a friend on Goodreads who completely went off on it. She’s Chinese and she said she thought it painted Asians in a bad light, presumably because of the BUTLOAD of drama. But personally, I totally accept it because most of this happens around me and I hear stories regularly of when kids rebel against their parents, which doesn’t end well.
Okay so here’s where I wasn’t impressed. I didn’t connect to the romance. I didn’t feel the chemistry between Mei and Darren. It’s meant to be really adorable but I didn’t really like it.
Another thing I had a problem with..
The Mandarin phrases littered in the book. There are quite a few. Enough to get me worried time-to-time about whether I’m missing some key points. I would have loved some translation at the end of the book with an index or something. I felt left out in those areas.
It’s a really good book and I recommend it to all YA lovers. But also read it for the diversity because that’s one thing I loved the most about the book—I learnt a lot about Taiwanese traditions and beliefs.