American Panda is one of most anticipated releases on 2018! So can you imagine my excitement when I was approved for an eARC on NetGalley?
Thank you to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing for giving a free digital copy in exchange for an honest review!
Title: American Panda
Author: Gloria Chao
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Expected release date: February 6, 2018
Genre: Young adult, contemporary
Length: 320 pages (hardback)
Synopsis: (via 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?”
How do I write a review for a book that I connected with? What words can depict how I feel? Or is there a way for me to quote nearly every page of this book?! 😅 I bookmarked nearly all the pages because there was a passage on each page I felt like I could relate to or simply got a good chuckle out of it.
While I share similar conflicted feelings like the narrator, Mei, I cannot vouch for a lot of the scenarios in the book because I’m not Taiwanese. Truth be told, reading this book was a learning experience for me, whether that was the intention or not.
I do think there is a lot of cognitive dissonance (I think that’s the right idea) in regards Mei. She is Chinese-American. Her parents grew up in Taiwan, but she in America. One can only imagine the very conflicting emotions and situations she was often put in with parents who hold very strongly to their culture, beliefs, and religion. Mei, who ascribes to a handful of these as well, feels incredibly conflicted about these beliefs she’s grown up with. This comes to head as she attends her first year of college to become a doctor, not because she wants to be one, but because her parents want her to.
There are so many instances throughout this book where Mei makes a lot of excuses for her parents’ behavior, especially when it deals with particular superstitious beliefs and rituals (like how having a big nose, though not considered pretty in the culture, means you’ll make a lot of money). Mei has learned to deal with this her entire life, the teasing and the her internal struggle to reconcile to her two parts: Chinese and American–an American panda.
What I truly found disconcerting was Mei’s parents’ complete disownment of her elder brother, Xing, simply because he started dating a woman his parents didn’t approve of. Mei has had to deal with her lack of brother by herself, unable even to voice how she feels about pretty much anything to her parents and other members of her family because she is 1) a girl and 2) young. It becomes quite frustrating at times, and we can really see how heavily not only this, but Mei’s parents’ desire to mold their daughter in someone she can’t be weighs heavily on her.
It’s safe to say that I liked pretty much everyone that isn’t Mei’s family, haha. Well, I liked her brother but that’s because he broke away from the family and forged his own path. I really liked Darren, too, and liked seeing how his and Mei’s relationship develops over the course of the book. Each new character introduced plays a role in how Mei sees herself, I think, and each are important in their own way. I did find certain situations very odd, though. Mei has to hide a lot from her parents and it’s really sad to see. She also reflects a great deal on the past and how she did once feel close with her family members, but how it has also quickly deteriorated as the years went by.
One of the worst moments for me was toward the last few chapters of the book when Mei and her mother are talking about her mother’s relationship with her father. I won’t say anything for spoiler’s sake, but her mother has really taken a lot, mostly emotionally and verbally, and I think the reason she is so hard on Mei is she feels like Mei can do and be better. And I think a lot of that stems from why some Asian parents can appear to be so hard on their children because they just want better for them (maybe that’s only my parents? Okay.)
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