American Panda, by Gloria Chao

erinla's review against another edition

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3.5 stars. This was completely adorable, and I don’t mean that in a condescending, cutesy way either. Okay, maybe kinda cutesy. First though, I want to stress that I am a person commenting on a story that is not my own heritage, and that everything I say should generally be taken with a grain of salt because I am in no way qualified to having any real opinion about experiences that are not my own. I in no way mean to delegitimize them. On that note though, one of the things I think this book does best most of all is comment on the relationships and struggles one has with their family, whom they generally love, but also find themselves in conflict with their values and beliefs. Underlying all the traditions that Mei is forced to uphold under the gaze of her overbearing, traditional parents, I think she really does love them, and honors and appreciates the sacrifices they have made to help her get where she is in her life today. That being said, the most tragic part of the story is that with her parents being so headstrong and overbearing and Mei being shy and reclusive in the beginning, it becomes almost impossible to imagine that any happy ending can happen at all without some sort of heartbreaking moment from either party. Throughout the novel, Mei struggles immensely with keeping her secrets from her parents, and it feels like she is literally being eaten inside with the guilt that she is throwing away everything her parents have sacrificed. The very fact that she does have this guilt is proof, I think, that she does truly love them and where they came from. That being said, as someone on the outside of this kind of family relationship, sometimes it did feel a bit forced and overly dramatic, almost bordering on stereotypical, but I am fully prepared to accept that is because I have no personal experience with immigrant/Taiwanese parentage whatsoever.

One thing I definitely want to comment on is Mei and her relationship with Xing and Xing’s disownment. We know from the summary that he is going to be part of huge moment of transition for Mei. My thing with Xing though, is that he remains shrouded in mystery for a good chunk of the novel and we aren’t given much explanation until he and Mei meet up later on. We know that he was disowned because of the girl he was dating, but that’s about it and I really felt like I was straining for more information to clarify the situation. When he becomes part of Mei’s life again, it becomes a lot clearer and less unnatural and artificial. I feel it would have made for an easier reading experience if there was more of a buildup to their final meeting. The scene where he appears at Chow Chow and there is a big fight between him and his family was a lot of information to take in at once and felt overwhelming, especially because it read as if we knew a lot of information, though we didn’t.

The relationship between Mei and Darren was pretty cute, even if at times it felt rather awkward. As embarrassing as this would be for Mei, I was kind of hoping that the guy who barged in on her checking her rash was going to be Darren. It would be totally awkward and embarrassing for sure (I know I would die on the floor for sure) but it could have been a funny icebreaker for their relationship. It’s interesting to note the differences between Mei and Darren’s upbringing. One is the child of immigrants and thus closer in proximity to the corresponding traditions, and the other is from a family that has been American for generations. I was a little surprised by how mean Darren was with his comment about Mei being brainwashed, though. Their relationship was really starting to build a foundation at that point, and I felt it was clear that Mei was struggling with her parents’ traditions. It was cruel and frankly, unnecessary. I really hurt for Mei after that comment, and I wasn’t sure if that was supposed to be the end of them or not. Thankfully, it wasn’t, and we got lots of hot chocolately goodness after he apologised and they made up. Also, because Mei didn’t seem to have many friends, I was glad she had someone her own age that she could rely upon. (As a side note though, what is up with the Lady Peanut/Pecan/Almond nicknames? Is that another MIT thing? Because I feel like I completely missed where that came from (I mean, all the MIT lingo completely went over my head, so it’s not entirely unexpected).)

I really liked the structure of the novel though. I thought the voicemails from Mei’s family were an interesting addition, even if they were just a comedic effect. The little notes about having no chapter four or chapter thirteen were quirky additions that took no effort at all but added to the cultural aspect of the book. As much as I didn’t understand a single Mandarin word, I also really liked the emphasis on them as well. I super appreciated the Author’s Note at the beginning, where she explains the Romanization of the words and how to pronounce certain letters based upon their accents. Even if I was hopeless at translating, I thought it was a nice consideration to the readers.

I think a lot of my comments and thoughts about this book stem from the fact that I haven’t experienced anything that Mei has by myself. I haven’t been pressured to study a subject I cannot stand, and I haven’t been threatened with expulsion from my family and only support system if I didn’t follow the rules. But for the record, as I previously said, I do think the author did a great job at exploring the relationships Mei had and her own internal struggles with it all in a clash of her own culture and that of her parents. I did feel like I got to know Mei the best, and even if the rest of the characters felt a bit one-sided at times, they provided a good balance for Mei. The only character that was just plain awkward for me was Dr. Chang, from the moment she was introduced to her near repulsion at just being a doctor in general (if I were her patient, I’m not sure I would feel entirely confident that my health was in her hands). Also, as a final note, I loved the emphasis that was placed on Mei’s love of dance, and I especially loved that it was Chinese dance in particular. Another reason why I feel that she truly does love her heritage, if not always the traditions and superstitions. I wish it had been in the summary though, because throughout the book it often felt like a side note and I didn’t figure out how much attention I was supposed to pay it until halfway through the book. Anyway, overall I did really like it and I’m super glad I got to read it. I am totally here for diverse reads and main characters and am thrilled that books like this are being written and published.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

gabieowleyes's review against another edition

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2.5/5 stars.

First and foremost, this book surrounded a character that was diverse in a way that I have never read about before. It was such a pleasure to read about a character who's culture is different than my own. However, I could understand certain parts of her life because my parents were immigrants to the U.S. as well. I really enjoy reading books where the duality of being able to connect to a character who is vastly different than you occurs. I can only imagine how important this book is for people who reflect Mei's diversity more.

That being said, this story wasn't what I thought it was going to be. It felt like there was a lot of filler in the middle, but I'm not sure where else the book would have gone. I think I was just hyper-aware that I'm not really that much into YA anymore. This just wasn't the best fit for me. I am glad that I read it though.

niah_reece's review against another edition

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~3.5 Stars ROUNDED UP~

-College setting—> Seriously, why are more YA books not set in college or the time BEFORE college?
-Cultural elements—> love, Love, love
-Love interest—>Ok so it was a little insta-lovey but he was cute!!
-The main character’s struggle with figuring out her future plans and diverging from her parents’ plans. #relatable
-The main character <3

-Writing style—> seemed a bit juvenile at times
-UNNECESSARY CONFLICT OMG. The conflict (I don’t know if that’s the right word exactly but...) between the main character and the love interest made me so angry! Just! Talk! To! Him!

Overall I think this was a really cute, quick read and look forward to more from this author!

thenextgenlibrarian's review

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emotional inspiring tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated


And right now I had no idea where I ended and my parents began.”
Seventeen-year-old Mei should be in her senior year of high school like others her age. Instead she’s moving into the dorms at MIT as a pre-med major at her Taiwanese parents’ insistence. For so long her parents kept her sheltered and Mei was only too happy to please them after her brother was disowned from the family for dating a Taiwanese girl who couldn’t have children. But now that Mei is out in the world she’s realizing things about herself like she’s afraid of germs, which makes being a doctor almost impossible, she would prefer to dance over everything else, and  she has a crush on Darren, a Japanese-American boy she can’t stop thinking about. Will Mei be able to stand up to her parents or will she continue to live this half life?
I went into this YA book thinking it would be light and fluffy, but that’s not the case at all. This novel has depth and deals with traditional parents who don’t understand, nor do they want to, the children they raised in America instead of in Taiwan. I had a completely different upbringing than Mei, but her story made me feel incredibly empathetic for those who have parents like hers. American Panda shines a light on so many topics such as parents who have incredibly high expectations for their children, body positivity, body shaming, anxiety, standing up for yourself and inner strength. You can tell how personal this story is to the author. I was pleasantly surprised by how real this book is and how many young adults will connect with it.

CW: fat shaming, anxiety, death, germophobia, racism, stereotypes, microaggressions 

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amylandranch's review against another edition

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This book cracked me up in so many ways. I think the voice mails from her mom were the best. Mai is a young 17 year old heading off to MIT to become a doctor, even though she is a germaphobe and wants to dance. Her parents and their rigid beliefs and traditions have helped mold her but she also wants to break free and be her own person. I appreciated learning more about the culture of Taiwan and how teens may have to balance two worlds. Family, tradition and hard work are important and so is love and acceptance. Lots of humor, poop sayings, some sad parts, and because she is entering college there is some talk of sex and STDs (and some pretty funny stories to go with that). 9th grade and up.

norahsreading's review against another edition

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I had such a fun time reading this! It definitely felt easy to get through, but even when things were breezing past, I felt each word's meaning.

Gloria Chao, You have my heart.

dandydonut's review against another edition

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god. just. i have so many things to say and fksdjfdsakfdjsf basically, i'm completely in love with this book. it spoke to me so much, as a chinese kid with immigrant parents and god the whole thing about guilt and responsibility and honouring family just sucker punched me in the gut. imo the romance was a bit weak but mei's interactions with her older brother and mom fully made up for it. as a dancer had to quit, this also spoke to me a lot 11/10 would recommend to any/every asian kid, though one warning is this book is quite niche, as in if u didn't have direct experiences with mandarin or the time to google every mando word, u'd not understand a lot of it.

keitacolada's review against another edition

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So let's just say I picked up this book for the romance and found that this book was actually not really about a romance at all, which is fine. This book centers on family and traditions and how to overcome the obstacles that come along with both. There are great messages about taking control of your own life as well as forgiveness (as seen with most of the characters). There is also this symbolism with the "panda' in which things are not always so black and white when it comes to people and how you shouldn't expect things to be that way.

That being said, something with this story just didn't click for me in that I felt a little disconnected and that's fine, that's just the way I read. I just found myself drifting off whenever they would gather at the restaurant and drop all of these sayings and I was just struggling to keep up. Good for the author though for putting in some Chinese phrases and words in there. The thing that annoyed me the most about this story though and that kept me from giving it a higher rating is the family. My GOD I wanted to choke them. I get it's depicting a traditional Chinese family, with traditional family roles, but that didn't make it less irritating??? There was only two good members of the family and that was the mom (who actually tried to mend the relationship) and Xing (who had to deal with the toxic family himself. The relationships Mei had with them were really genuine and nice while also conflicting which was an interesting aspect to the story.

((I don't know what else to say besides--- so much doctor talk my anti-germ self couldn't deal.))

samanthafondriest's review against another edition

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3.5 stars. Excellent representation of Asian-American experience. I know this isn't everyone's experience (which the book also covers... how different people with the same cultural background have fastly different upbringings and experiences with their parents/traditions) but I definitely recognized experiences friends of mine have had and talked to me about. I like that there wasn't a magical everything-is-fixed ending. The story was great, but the writing was a little rough/unrefined in places. Not bad, and no glaring issues, but I could tell this was a first novel. I'm excited to see this author grow though, because she definitely has stories to tell and experience to share.

abigailmelinda's review against another edition

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3.5/5 stars

As a former pre-med student and Filipina, I saw myself in Mei and her internal struggle to choose between being her most authentic self and following her own heart or sacrificing who she truly was to please her family and follow their plans for her life instead. The romance was cute, to say the least, and I appreciated how the relationship between Mei and her mother improved by the end of the story. However, I’m docking half a star since I got quite bored in the middle of the book. I guess that just goes to show that I’m definitely a plot-driven reader rather than character-driven. Overall, a sweet, relatable story.