American Panda/ posted in: Book Review, Reading American Panda by Gloria Chao
on February 6th 2018
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Simon Pulse
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?
This book is so good!
Conflict between immigrant Asian parents and their American-born kids is a staple in a lot of books. What I appreciated about this book is that it took a deeper look at the people involved to figure out their motivations. Mei is trying to be the perfect daughter because she has seen real world consequences of disobedience. Her brother was cut out of the family years earlier for dating a woman with some health issues that may impact her fertility. His parents would not accept a potential daughter in law who might not produce grandchildren. Mei is raised on stories of a local Taiwanese-American woman who was cast out of her family and the horrible things had (supposedly) happened to her. From an outsider’s perspective it is easy to wonder “Why doesn’t she stand up for herself?” This book does a great job of showing where she gets the idea that she has no other options.
The book features other characters who have been in these situations and examines the results of their decisions. There is:
- A woman who became a doctor because her family decided she would be
- A female relative whose life is taken up by caring for her mother
- Mei’s boyfriend, who is from a Japanese-American family that has been living in the United States for several generations
- Mei’s mother
Mei’s mother’s story was amazing. At the beginning she is portrayed as an overbearing, neurotic mother who has Mei’s schedule memorized and panics if she doesn’t answer her phone when she knows she should be out of class. Her phone messages are played for laughs. As the story deepens though we start to see her conflicts. She’s the daughter-in-law of a very traditional family in an arranged marriage where her role is very sharply defined. As she sees Mei start to branch out, she opens up a little about her life and you develop a lot of compassion for a character who very easily could have descended into a caricature.
It’s great. I would recommend this one to everyone. Go get it and read it and pass it on.