American Panda by Gloria Chao | Book Review

Title: American Panda
Author: Gloria Chao
Pages: 320 pages
Release Date: February 6th, 2018
Source: Hardcover from Amazon
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
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?

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I am so touched to see someone that looks like me on the cover of a highly promoted book in the Young Adult genre. When I first heard about this book, I was too excited to get my hands on it. I preordered the book, which is something I don't do anymore and it just shows how excited I was. I'm so delighted to be featuring this book on my blog and to be part of getting this book into the hands of other readers.

That being said, I really wanted to love this book. I don't read contemporary often, but when I do its usually diverse contemporaries. American Panda took me a little more than over a week to get through. While it was a pretty short book, I noticed that I wasn't that eager to pick up the book from time to time. Maybe that's why it took me so long to finish it! I'll be honest and say the book was slow and the plot didn't entice me as I originally hoped it would.

17-year-old Mei Lu knows that when she grows up she's going to be a doctor, marry a pre-approved Taiwanese man, have lots of male babies and provide for her family. What her parents don't know is that Mei doesn't want to follow the path they've carefully constructed for her. However, there is even more pressure on Mei to do what's expected of her because her brother shamed the family. Mei struggles with appeasing her family's age-old traditions while also trying to follow her own dreams.

Although I am Asian American, I have yet to face some of the things that the main character faced in this book. I think that's such an important thing to note- just because I come from the same background as a character, doesn't mean I'm going to have the same experiences. This is extremely important and something I stress because we can't judge a book based on how similar the character's experience was to our own. We must value all experiences. Fortunately for me, my parents did not push the notion that I had to be a doctor or a lawyer when I was growing up. They told me that I could be anything I ever wanted, as long as I was happy. Even though I didn't really grow up with the same experience, I could totally relate to Mei.

If you're looking for an authentic representation of what it's like to live under the pressure of cultural traditions, I would highly recommend this book. I think that a lot of Chinese traditions are very misunderstood and could even be considered cruel. This book explores what it's really like for someone to live under the pressure of these traditions and how difficult it can be to reconcile your own life with your parents expectations of you.

I enjoyed this book. It won't be making my list of top books any time soon, but I appreciated it for the representation and the storytelling. I just know this book is going to help a lot of people who feel the same way as Mei- pressured by her family's expectations and her culture to follow an already set path in life. The author said she wished she had this book when she was in school. I'm very grateful that I was able to read it at this stage in my life. So please, I encourage you to read and share it for others who might be experiencing the same thing.
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  1. It's good to see that although you didn't love it, you ended up enjoying this book. It's my most anticipated book of 2018 and I just got my hands on a copy the other day! Isn't this for the diversity book club that you and belinda have?

    1. Yep for @diversifytheverse! We're going to have our liveshow on March 3rd!


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