American Panda – Emotional and Empowering coming of age story

American Panda

Publication date : February 6th, 2018

Publisher : !Simon Pulse | Simon & Schuster

Genre : Young Adult | Contemporary

Page Count: 311

Synopsis : 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?(Goodreads)

Rating:4.5 stars

American Panda

CW: germaphobia, talk of infertility, mention of abusive parents, colorism, slutshaming, medical talk, cadavers and dissection, fatphobia, death of a grandparent.

(No Spoilers)

I’ve been pushing reading American Panda for THE longest reason, and for no valid reason at that, so much so that I’ve built it to be in my head something that it wasn’t. This book wasn’t what I expected to be, it wasn’t what I wanted it to be, and yet it tugged on my heart strings and I loved it so freaking much.

The one word I can think about to describe Gloria Chao’s writing in this book is heartfelt. I was completely invested in Mei’s story, in her feelings, dilemmas, the stakes that were at play for her and everything in between. The prose was very simple and yet the emotion was threaded through it so delicately, it felt like an integral part of every word, chosen carefully and purposefully. I don’t know if it was just a me thing or if this book felt like that for most people who read it but I loved that it just made me *feel*.

American Panda is very much a coming of age story and an amazing one at that, with a little bit of new romance and friendship thrown in there. Now to talk about why this book didn’t turn out as I hoped. As a medstudent, I was extremely excited to read a book about a pre-medstudent but then I go in and find out that she decidedly does not want to go into the medical field and is trying to get out of it, which is more than fine in and of itself but it was a slight bummer to me. One from which I recovered rather quickly once I rearranged my expectations and I started loving the story for what it was rather than for what I wished it was.

Mei, the main character, is very easy to like and to root for. She’s a huge dork if we’re being honest, she’s sweet and funny and can be very awkward. She starts off kind of shy and lacking confidence, very scared to go against every single thing in the life her parents had mapped for her. To their faces that is. In truth, Mei is germaphobic, so being a doctor, constantly surrounded by germs, is a no go for her, she has a whole other life planned out for herself. If only she could confront them about it. She loves the freedom she finds at college, is passionate about dance, and about her very japanese-not-taiwanese definitely-not-parent-approved crush.

One of the many things I loved about this book is the exploration of what it’s like to grow up in a culture that expects you to do what you parents tell, a culture where you can’t just cut off ties and walk away, because for many of us it’s not that easy, in a lot of cultures, those ties are sacred. And that’s what the main character has to deal with. Her parents are very traditional and strict, so no matter how much she loves them, she has a strained relationship with them, and because of being given no choice, and lies building upon lies, you can see that relationship falling apart. And it’s heartbreaking.

Especially with all the emotional turmoil she deals with, the crushing expectations that ultimately knows she can’t meet and be happy at the same time, and the guilt of going against her parents. Especially the guilt, it plagues her and really weighs her down which makes it very hard for her to deal with. Those are all very real emotions a lot of teens have to deal with and I’m glad they have a book they can find themselves and a little bit of hope in. Silver lining of this whole situation is that she got to strengthen her relationship with her brother and he ends up being a major part of her support system.

Now to lighter, cuter things. THE ROMANCE. Darren, the love interest is a dork as well which makes their interactions beyond adorable. He’s a biology nerd where she hates biology but hey they still manage to get along very well. He doesn’t really get what she deals with which makes for some situations where he says all the wrong and insensitive things but the more they get to know each other the better he gets are understanding where her decisions AND fears all come from. He’s very supportive of every endeavor of hers. She also strikes up a very improbable friendship with her roommate, which admittedly starts very rocky because of how different they are but they find a middle ground where they get along and I loved that.

I highly recommend this book to anyone really, but especially if you’re a teen who sees themselves in Mei’s struggles, it’s hard to read but ultimately comforting.

That’s it until next time.

Did you read American Panda? If so, what did you think?

Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.


8 thoughts on “American Panda – Emotional and Empowering coming of age story

  1. I also read and LOVED American Panda. I really adored Mei and thought she was so strong to go through all this emotional turmoil, as you mentioned, and still find enough energy to grow and fight against her problems. It was one of my favorite 2018 reads. Another aspect I loved is how it is set in univeristy. Being a student myself, I’m always super curious to see how other college students’ life is like. Lovely review as always! 🤗


  2. This sounds awesome! I was drawn in by the title. I always felt similar to this, growing up as a Malaysian in Australia. I really love how so many books representing Asians in Western countries are coming out, and it just makes me feel more like my experiences were normal, you know?
    In any case, this is definitely on my TBR!


  3. Pingback: To sum-up: December 2018 + Q&A Announcement!!! | Word Wonders

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