Book Review: American Panda by Gloria Chao

American Panda by Gloria Chao

Posted February 19, 2018 by Amber in Reviews / 6 Comments

American Panda

American Panda

by Gloria Chao

Publisher: Simon Pulse on February 6, 2018
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Target Age Group: New Adult
Rating: ★★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads

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.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★★
Plot: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★★★
Writing: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★
Narrator: ★★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★ 1/2

4 Star Rating


Have you read this book or anything by this author?  If so, did you enjoy it?  Tell me all about your experience in the comments!

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6 responses to “American Panda by Gloria Chao

  1. I’m so glad to see you enjoyed this book, Amber! I loved the exploration of Asian-American culture as well. It totally touched my heart, especially because I found myself being able to see certain aspects of my own life in the story, although I’m not Taiwanese. It was overall such a great read! Lovely review. 🙂

    • Amber

      I very much agree! The book was definitely accessible to other cultures while still being respectful of tradition. I’ve never read anything quite like it! 🙂

  2. Lilivette

    Glad you enjoyed this book! I’ve heard great things about it! And I’m actually thinking of giving it a try! Sometime this year, I hope!

    • Amber

      I hope you read it and like it! I really wasn’t going to pick it up at all (I’m getting really tired of YA Contemporary Romance blahhhh) but it wasn’t like that at all and really exceeded my expectations. An awesome debut!