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?
American Panda probably has one of the best covers out there and it fits with the book (only way it would be better is if it had actual pandas on it). I didn’t realize that the drinkable looking hot chocolate would actually be significant but it is. However, besides having an excellent looking cover the book was actually pretty well done too.
Culture clashes are a common issue discussed in YA. I think American Panda did a fairly good job with these issues. I really felt for Mei, and unlike in a lot of books I totally get where the conflict is coming from.
However, I think her dad’s actions go past being merely a culture issue and go more into the abusive dick territory. Seriously, at the end of the book I wanted some sort of lifeline thrown out to Mei’s mother becuase no one should have that much control over his wife and family…
And I’m starting to diverge more and more into spoiler territory which I really hate doing in reviews.
Here’s the thing about American Panda if you’re expecting this to be a cute contemporary that focuses primarily on romance, it’s not. Yes, the romance does play a role in the story, but it’s more or less bout Mei finding herself and becoming an independent bad ass who doesn’t give a fuck about what anyone thinks.
I really liked the themes that were brought up in this book. In addition to Mei’s Taiwanese background butting up against her growing up in America, there were also conflicts with parental expectations and general self discovery.
Finding out that she wasn’t suited for medical school, played a substantial part of the story. And I liked that. People change their majors frequently, though not near with the amount of drama as Mei had to endure, but finding that medical school was not the right path for her was something that I’m sure many people can identify with.
I also liked how Mei developed as a character from the course of the novel, being so dependent on her family and then not being so much. It was a good arc.
The relationships that she had with her brother and boyfriend were also endearing and nice to watch being developed.
The parents seemed a little OTT to me at first. However, while I originally could not stand Mei’s mother, by the end of the book I felt like I had a good idea why she was the way she was. That being said, I wanted to shake her and some of the comments she said were just outright awful, but at least there was an underlying reason why she was acting the way she was. Mei’s father and his family though.
God, I hated them all.
They didn’t seem realistic. I mean, yeah, I get that people act that way but usually there is some speck of humanity there. But in this book, not so much. One other thing that felt unrealistic and was never explained was how Mei’s spring tuition was being paid. It was sort of the plot hole that was never explained.
Anyway, I recommend you check out American Panda. For the most part, it is everything I wanted from this book. In some ways it was better. I thought that this book actually took the disownment pollen and it expanded it more than I usually see. It was also refreshing to see a book set at a college campus that didn’t focus so much on sex.
Was it perfect: no. But it certainly made for an enjoyable read.
Overall Rating: B+