Tuesday, February 6, 2018

BOOK REVIEW | American Panda by Gloria Chao

Title: American Panda
Author: Gloria Chao
Series? No
Pages: 320
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Source: I received an e-galley of American Panda via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review! Thank you! All thoughts and opinions are my own. :)
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?
my initial thoughts :)
To be honest, I think my initial goodreads  thoughts summed up everything pretty well. I usually write a review on goodreads right after I finish a book, and then when I have taken the time to process everything and let it marinate in my head, I then write this review. It's not a surprise if my rating is lowered once I write my full review. However, this is not the case for American Panda. In fact...I think I like American Panda even more after taking a step back! 

American Panda follows Mei, a Taiwanese American during her first year in college at MIT. Mei struggles between balancing the two cultures, and trying to figure out who she is in the midst of her parent's expectations. Like I said in my goodreads review, although I am not Taiwanese (Mei does call herself Chinese-American throughout the novel as well), I still connected with her a lot. I think one of the main messages was that no matter what we look like, we can all have the same struggles  as each other. I saw a lot of myself in Mei, and this was such a great book to read, especially because I am in my first year in college as well. 

The only reason I lowered the rating from a full five stars was the beginning. It took me about 70 pages to find my groove, but that's a mix of how I was reading the novel and the time jumps. While American Panda is in chronological order, there can be days passed between chapters. This got some taking used to, as I normally read books where almost every day is recorded, or the book takes place over a couple days rather than months. However, once I got used to it, the book was easy to read. 

Besides the problems I had right in the beginning of the book, American Panda was essentially flawless. This book is character-driven, so if you are a plot-driven type of reader, you might be thinking "What's the point of all this?" The point is to connect to readers, to show Chinese-Americans, and readers in general, that they are not alone, and that they deserve to be who they want to be, regardless of expectation. 
from ARC's page 254 - remember that quotes can change from ARC to final copy, so this might not be the exact quote that is now in stores!

The interpersonal relationships in American Panda were immaculate. The relationship between Mei and her mother makes the novel stand out. If that relationship was not so integral to to the book, I would not have liked American Panda nearly as much. Gloria Chao is not afraid to get right into the thick of messy relationships, and I appreciated having such authentic bonds. 

Also, the romance is just so cute! The relationship itself is kind of like a baby panda - super cute, making you smile from ear to ear, and making you sad when the panda isn't happy. While the romance isn't at the core focus (it's a coming of age story, first and foremost), it allowed for some really adorable scenes.

To show you how compelling American Panda is, picture this. You have been spending a week with your extended family, who are all virtually strangers that you only see once a year. Your uncle doesn't even spell your name right! After a week with them, you and your immediate family drive 5 hours to stay in a hotel for three days to visit other relatives, and then you finally make your way to the airport to go home. Of course, you have to wait 6 hours until your flight. Your only fragment of peace is American Panda. It's what takes you away from the misery of a full 24 hours of traveling. That's what American Panda was to me, so thank you for taking my mind off of all that!!

As you can tell, I loved American Panda. The novel is so powerful, and the author's note reiterates how important this book is for those like Mei. I'm lucky; most YA protagonists are like me, and I'm able to relate to them easily. Diverse books are ~trendy~ right now in the publishing sphere, but it's because they are important!

With that, I give this book
5 out of 5 Stars!


  1. Ahhh!!!! I can't wait to read this! It came out today and I grabbed our copy from the library. I am so glad you loved it.

    1. That's great that you got it so soon! I hope you love it Kay. :)

  2. Excellent review, Genni! I'm really looking forward to this one myself. :)

    1. Thank you Lauren!! Fingers crossed you love it. :)

  3. Ahhh I love books that focus on relationships! I'm so sick of all the YA books that have nonexistent parents! This book sounds amazing <3 Great review :)


    1. Nonexistent parents are the WORST! Thanks Uma. :)

  4. Excellent review, Genni! I love the strong focus on the parental relationship and especially the mother-daughter relationship. And your description of the romance being like a baby panda... I couldn’t stop smiling at that. :) This one just went straight to my TBR!

    Tanya @ Girl PLus Books

    1. Thank you Tanya! I do as well! Maybe it's because I'm close with my mother, but I loved seeing a strong (and at times messy) relationship! I'm glad you want to read it! Thanks so much for stopping by. :)

  5. Brilliant review! I love that message, and I adore messy relationships when they're done right. This book looks fantastic, and that cover is so aesthetic ;) My mouth is watering for that drink, hahaha.

    1. Thank you Amy! Yes, the cover and the drink are amazing! The art design team did a great job. :)

  6. This sounds like such a sweet and relative book! I love it. I like the sounds of the relationships as well - mother's and daughters generally do have fiarly complex relationships, built up over a lifetime! So it is nice that that was represented so well.

    Diversity is such a buzz word at the moment and I'm glad to see that there are authors out there doing it so well and not just dropping in some diversity for the hype. Lovely review.

    1. Hi Di!! Sorry for such the late response! I agree that mother/daughter relationships can be very complex, and I loved how Mei's relationship with her mother wasn't picture perfect.

      I'm glad too! Sometimes it seems like authors are just forcing diversity onto their books, after the fact or mid-series as a way to jump on the bandwagon. I think it helps that the author is own-voices, and she can give an accurate representation of her experience as a Taiwanese American!