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?
There is so much to love in this book, and I loved ALL of it! Seriously, do not even bother reading my review – just go out and read this book. I promise that you will love it!
If you’re still reading this, you must be a skeptic and I applaud you for that. It can be good to be a skeptic, so let me explain why I loved this book and then you can decide for yourself if you should read it (Spoiler alert: you will love American Panda and you should just go ahead and read it. But, by all means, continue with the skepticism).
At it’s heart, American Panda is an exploration of relationships – familial relationships, friendships, and romantic relationships. But the most important relationship that is explored in this gem of a novel, is the relationship that you have with yourself; your sense of self-worth, value, and the ability to chase after your own happiness.
“When will it be what you want?”
The style of this book is just as charming as the story. I’m not talking about the cover art, or the stylistic font choices (but don’t get me wrong, those things are lovely!), but rather the voice message transcripts interspersed between chapters. American Panda follows Mei through her first year at MIT, with each chapter documenting and detailing a snapshot of her experiences. Interspersed between each chapter is a transcript of voicemails from Mei’s mother. Stylistically, this structure works beautifully for the story. Mei, for the first time in her life, is living apart from her parents, but the interspersed transcripts of the voice messages keeps their presence close to both Mei and the reader. The voicemails are also, for the most part, light and hilarious.
Voicemails from my mother
12:01 p.m.: Mei! Why aren’t you picking up? Where are you?
12:08 p.m.: Maybe you’re in class. Good girl. It’s your mŭqīn.
1:34 p.m.: Mei? How come you’re still away? I saw on the news a girl was kidnapped right out of her dorm room. Call me when you get this!
2:10 p.m.: You need to give me your schedule so I know when you’re in class and when I need to worry because you don’t pick up.
3:27 p.m.: Mei! Are you in trouble? Eating drugs? Pregnant? KIDNAPPED? Call me!!
Our charming protagonist and hilarious narrator, Mei, is one of the most delightful voices that I’ve read in such a long time. She is laugh out loud hilarious, but at the same time, she is so real and complicated. Every single person who reads this book will identify with Mei in some way, and that is one of the amazing strengths of this book!
I can’t thank you enough for picking up this book, and I hope knowing Mei’s story (and mine) will give you something that I didn’t have: the gift of knowing others share your experience, that it’s okay to not feel wholly one thing or another, and it can get better.
– Author’s Note
Everything about American Panda feels so effortlessly done, which tells me that Gloria Chao worked her ass-off on this book, and it shows. American Panda is a fictional novel, but it is obvious that Glora Chao poured her heart and soul into this book, and it tugs on your heartstrings in such a deeply personal way.
American Panda will make you laugh, it will make you cry, and it will leave you with such a strong sense of hope and love. This is a book for dreamers, a book for friends, and a book for anyone who has ever struggled to find their path in life. Read this book.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Title: American Panda
Publisher: Simon Pulse (February 6, 2018)
Genre: Fiction, Literature & Fiction, Young Adult, Teen, Humor
Read… in a span of two days while… feeling ALL of the feelings.
Purchase your copy here.
Author: Gloria Chao