Friday, March 23, 2018

Book Review: American Panda

Title: American Panda
Author: Gloria Chao
Genre: Young Adult | Contemporary

Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Source: Library
Format: Physical

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 (goodreads)


American Panda was a refreshing tale of a young girl finding her own way. 
Plot: I wasn't originally interested in American Panda (because I suck at contemporaries), but I saw Gloria Chao at an author event recently and I loved the choice chapters that she read to the audience. American Panda was a series of snapshots that led to Mei finally finding her voice and deciding what was best for her. Mei came from a household with strong traditional values in which saying "no" to your parents just wasn't allowed. I mentioned earlier that it felt like "snapshots" because American Panda didn't read like a traditional chronological book, instead each chapter addressed a specific topic such as school choices, her relationship with her brother, her grandmother, and her crush. While the stories seemed isolated, I liked how it all came together in the end and showed Mei's growth over her first year away at university. 

Characters: Mei was one of the most realist characters I had the pleasure of reading about. She was raised in a loving home that with parents that ensured that she knew her Taiwanese roots and that she was set up for success. The heart of American Panda was exploring one girl's struggle to marry her American culture with her Taiwanese upbringings. Her relationship with her family was sweet and complicated and I enjoyed the realistic resolution at the end. I was surprised that Gloria Chao even explored conflicts between different Asian cultures and how history really shapes our perspective. There was a romance but it rightly wasn't the focus of American Panda; it was just another way for Mei to grow and start making decisions for herself. 

Worldbuilding: American Panda took place mostly on the MIT campus and neighboring Chinatown. I learned a lot about MIT by reading American Panda and as someone who has never stepped foot on the campus, I have to say that Chao's description of campus life sounded authentic. 

As a Taiwanese-American, there was also pinyin littered throughout American Panda and Mei was often code-switching. Mei's culture was well represented in American Panda and could be found in everything that she did. 

Short N Sweet: American Panda will have you invested almost immediately, I highly recommend this coming-of-age tale!

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