American Panda by Gloria Chao – Book Review

Title: American Panda

Author: Gloria Chao

Genre/Themes: Young Adult, Contemporary, Dating, Family Expectations, Controlling Parents, Race, Culture, Taiwanese-American, Anxiety surrounding Germs/Cleanliness

Blurb from Goodreads

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?

From debut author Gloria Chao comes a hilarious, heartfelt tale of how, unlike the panda, life isn’t always so black and white.

My Review

There’s a lot to praise in American Panda because it’s an own voices YA that reveals some of the experiences of being a Taiwanese-American teenage girl.

But sadly it’s also rather dull.

I found the narrative to be lacking in much needed humour (or simply some light and shade) and seemingly mired in a lot of stereotypes. While it was interesting to read about Mei’s experiences due to her traditional upbringing every other character in this felt one dimensional.

I felt that Mei’s family in particular were only ever defined by their being Taiwanese. Which okay I get, this is a book exploring that culture…

But shouldn’t characters feel more than their culture?

I mean yes the point of the book was to show how everyone was constrained by tradition but people surely can’t just be one thing, can they????

And realistically this book didn’t manage to find a unique take on the trope of the controlling parent. Despite the Taiwanese-American cultural aspect to this book which is something that I am not at all familiar with it just felt like a number of other ya novels with controlling parents. Nothing really made this stand out from the crowd.

I really think the problem was down to the writing. It was just so bland. Mei experienced such emotional upheaval with her family… yet I never once cared. This is a book that very much tells the a story to reader but doesn’t truly create characters that make you feel. There was no showing of emotion at all. No passages or dialogue that were truly emotive.

And many characters were used purely as convenient plot devices rather than feeling integral to Mei’s life.

And the love story??? Utterly insipid insta love.

Also, content warning for anyone with phobias and anxieties surrounding germs.

As Mei has deep rooted issues with cleanliness and germs and the way this phobia is described could definitely be triggering. I don’t have a problem with germs but I frequently found myself feeling quite unsettled by some of Mei’s irrational germ-related thoughts.

This was an easy read but I don’t feel that this is an author that I want to return to in the future as sadly this felt exceedingly generic despite the excellent premise.

A shame.

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10 thoughts on “American Panda by Gloria Chao – Book Review

  1. Noooo I’m so sad to hear that this one was so disappointing! Honestly, the only reason this always piques my interest is because of the title — PANDAS FOR LIFE — but the story itself sounds like it was such a let down. And ugh, insta love is totes the worst 🙄SIGH. What a big time bummer, Emer! Superb review as always though 🥰

    Liked by 1 person

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