Book Review: American Panda by Gloria Chao

Book cover for American Panda by Gloria Chao.

Title: American Panda
Author: Gloria Chao
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Stars: 3.5/5

Summary (from Goodreads): 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?

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American Panda is an authentic story that defies Asian stereotypes. The main character has a great voice, and she really fights for what she wants. Overall, I enjoyed the book, but the pacing and the humour didn’t entertain me.

This book tells the story of a Taiwanese-American student at MIT who is younger than her classmates. Her parents pretty much have her entire future planned out: become a doctor and get a Taiwanese husband. However, Mei is a germaphobe and has a crush on a Japanese boy. I loved how this book tackles Asian stereotypes and is filled with bits of Mandarin. While I can’t say firsthand if Mei’s experiences are realistic, American Panda definitely felt authentic to me.

I really enjoyed Mei’s character. She has many tough decisions to make about her future and must decide if she wants to follow her dreams and be disowned like her older brother or live a life that doesn’t interest her. Mei’s voice is very captivating, and she has a sense of humour, which I can always appreciate. She comes a long way as she figures out which path she wants to take, and it is so easy to root for her.

While I enjoyed this book, I did have a couple of issues with it. The pacing is a bit off, and the beginning is hard to get into. The transition between certain scenes is kind of choppy, and there are a lot of moments with sudden drama. Honestly, there are also a few scenes that seemed random to me, and it takes away from the impact of the story. American Panda is also described as “laugh-out-loud,” but I found some of the humour to be distasteful and immature. A few jokes and some sarcasm here and there are fine, but for me, the bathroom jokes are overkill.

American Panda is a realistic story about a Taiwanese-American girl’s experiences at university. The main character is fierce and easy to connect with. While this book has some great messages and themes, the pacing is off, and the level of humour wasn’t for me.

I received an e-ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

17 thoughts on “Book Review: American Panda by Gloria Chao

  1. Sophie @ Blame Chocolate says:

    It’s wonderful to get an authentic Asian voice defying stereotypes but I can’t get behind bad humor and choppy pacing… I guess I might give it a go sometime if I feel like reading something cute but I won’t get my expectations up.
    Amazing review! 🙂

    • The Candid Cover says:

      It is refreshing to find books like this because there are so few of them available. I think that this is one of those books that will appeal to quite a few people, and it is a start in the right direction. As Brittany indicated above, sometimes contemporaries do have their issues. I would love to hear your thoughts on it if you do decide to give it a try. 🙂

  2. Jaime Lynn says:

    This sounds too, too cute! I love reading of other cultures, the expectations for the kids that come from those cultures, and the reality of having such a burden put on you at such a young age. I am an american, so I can say this without issue… our children do not have the same standards put on them, the same expectations. Which, in a lot of ways, is a sad thing. Freedom is amazing, but sometimes, having expectations is what pushes you to be your absolute best. But i can’t imagine feeling as if you have no choice. Is there a happy medium, anywhere?

    • The Candid Cover says:

      I totally agree with where you are coming from! I really enjoy the freedom that I have had to make my own choices in life, but there is a little part of me that also wishes there was a bit more guidance to get to where I am. Now, I am not a fan of pressure, but gentle pushes in the right direction can sometimes lead to great things. 😉

  3. Savings InSeconds says:

    I don’t get a “Must Read” vibe from this book at all. The cover looks way too childish for an MIT student image, for the first thing. The plot doesn’t sound really interesting either!

    • The Candid Cover says:

      I never really considered that the cover doesn’t quite fit, but you are absolutely right! This is intended for upper YA readers and the cover is leaning towards a middle grade feel isn’t it?

  4. Kelly G says:

    Great review! I’m sorry to hear that it wasn’t what you had hoped for. I admit that the humor in the book was something a little different. I really enjoyed learning more about the culture – I’m fascinated with learning about other cultures! I agree that it did feel a bit off on the pacing at times, though.

    • The Candid Cover says:

      The culture that is gained from this one is fantastic. I hate to be a black sheep, but that kind of humour just isn’t for me. 😉

    • The Candid Cover says:

      Well, I hope that it is more enjoyable for you. I know that there are some who are raving about it. I think that to each his own as far as the humour is concerned. 😉

    • The Candid Cover says:

      I do think that it is one that you should read. There are some wonderful aspects to this book, for sure. 🙂

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