American Panda by Gloria Chao
Digital Audiobook narrated by Emily Woo Zeller
Published by Simon Pulse on February 6th 2018
Genres: Asian Literature, Contemporary, Cultural, Fiction, Literature, New Adult, Realistic Fiction, Romance, Teen, Young Adult, Young Adult Contemporary
Length: 320 pages or 7 hours, 32 minutes
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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?
First and foremost, this is an #OwnVoices novel. American Panda follows the story of Mei, a first generation Taiwanese-American, in her first year at MIT. Her parents was her to be a doctor, but she has no stomach for the human body, and germs make her sick. What we must understand about Mei is that her culture is different than American culture. Her culture promotes obedience and respect, reveres tradition and errs to the side of caution when it comes to superstition. When Mei’s parents say she is going to be a doctor, it isn’t a suggestion. It is her future.
This isn’t your typical sweet, teenage romance. And it’s good that it is not. I knew from the moment I started reading that this book was not written for me, and I was just along for the ride. Mei was a great character, caught in the struggle of her own love of her Taiwanese culture and her desire to be heard. I adored Mei’s mother’s story as well, and found her brother’s character and her aunt’s character powerful and interesting, both struggling for their personal beliefs and feeling betrayed. Esther, in particular, stood out as a strong character in the background and I am now desperate to learn her story.
There is a lot in this novel that is beautiful, and there is a lot that is sad. I found it a really educational read, as I don’t know very much about Asian-American culture. I think there are definitely elements of that culture that should be more universally represented – such as respect – but I also see where people may feel trapped by their traditions. It made me very grateful for my own life experience.
It also spurred a conversation with my first-generation Chinese-American coworker, for whose insights I am grateful. As far as I can tell, this novel well mirrored her own experiences. We agreed that the revolution of cultural understanding and learning is amazing, and we both want to learn more. So, thanks Tash for sharing your experience!
I’d also like to point everyone to Chloe’s review of American Panda. Chloe, from Hong Kong, gives more of an #OwnVoices review and with novels like these it is really important to check out those reviews!
UPDATE: Chloe pointed me over to another AMAZING #OwnVoices review! Please check out Alexandra’s review as well!
I absolutely recommend this book – it’s an educational read that will tug at your heartstrings.