Book Review: American Panda

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?

Read (finished): June 15, 2019

Rating: ⭐ 5/5

“It was a clashing of personalities and interpretations of cultures. How would my parents and I ever find a solution to this impossible mix of opposing ideals and desires?” – American Panda

Before I even finished the book, I knew this would be a 5-star read for me.

American Panda is about seventeen-year-old Mei, who struggles between being true to herself and being the perfect Taiwanese daughter. As her freshman year at MIT begins, Mei tries to enjoy her pre-med career path, but her heart is set on opening her own dance studio. As the secrets from her parents become too heavy to carry, Mei has to decide how she wants to live her life.

As an Indian-American, I have had the privilege of experiencing two cultures, but there are times where this makes life a little difficult to juggle. For example, my grandparents began to get “inquiries” about whether I was looking for a husband…right after my 18th birthday. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people who are happy with getting married at that age. I am just not one of them. When I told my friends about it, only a few of them understood how I felt. They also just happened to be the ones in a similar situation.

As I read about Mei, it was hard not to relate. Luckily, my parents and I see eye-to-eye about a lot of things, but it still felt like I was looking into a parallel universe of what could have been my life. What if my parents held onto a different set of traditions? What if my sister and I were raised according to my grandma’s values? We all have different influences that shape our perspective, so I understand why not everything in the book reflected my own experiences. The book, however, never felt out of place.

Here is my warning to you: my review does not do the book justice. I like avoiding spoilers in my book reviews, which leads to vague descriptions and generic “I loved it!” statements. If you really want to know why Gloria Chao’s book is a treasure, you’ll just have to read it yourself.

Until next time, happy reading! ♡

P.S.- I wanted to express my opinion on the book by including some of my personal experiences. This is not a claim that all Asian-Americans live the same lifestyle. This is also not a claim that I hate my family because I love my family and would never trade places with someone else.


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