American Panda – Gloria Chao

‘The stench of the restaurants speciality walloped my senses as soon as I entered. Even with seventeen years of practice, I didn’t have a fighting chance against a dish named stinky tofu.’

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 fulfil the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a pre-approved 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?

What I thought:

The first thing to say about this book is it’s #ownvoices, this means it was written by an author who has the same American/Taiwanse background as Mei, the story she’s telling is hers to tell. The #ownvoices movement is one that has grown in the past couple of years to make sure that not only is there representation of all sorts of people in fiction but that the stories are being told in the right way.

Outside of the #ownvoices aspect the thing I found most about this book is it was just a fun easy read. I might not understand all of Mei’s challenges but the experience of having to work out who you are is one that everyone goes through. Her journey in fully becoming her own person and not being the person that her parents want her to be is a relatable one, the fumbles she makes along the way made me wince because I took similar missteps. But through it all Mei’s voice is funny and makes it a joy to read.

It easy to understand where Mei’s unsureness in herself comes from, not only does she know that her family’s plan for her is not feasible but she knows what the consequences will be. She’s already seen her parents disown her brother for not following their plan. My family and I have always been close – and my sister and I especially – so the idea of being estranged from them fills me with dread. I can’t imagine going a week without talking to them and would make a lot of sacrifices to not allow that to happen. And yet there has to be line, and a lot of this book is Mei working out where that line is and getting mentally prepared to cross it. She knows that it’s going to cause numerous problems but also knows that she can’t keep playing it safe, and that takes a lot of courage. Knowing that what you must do is going to not only cause you a lot of pain but cause more to the ones you love is a brave thing to do. Mei might not think of her as that but she really grows throughout the book into a brave young woman.

 

Why I read it:

I read a review about this one on another blog when it came out and it sounded really interesting, unfortunately I can’t remember what that blog was so I can’t give them credit. I had decided to make more of an effort to read #ownvoices, something that I’m doing my best to continue this year.
The idea of not only having to do the normal teenage thing of working out who you are but having to fight against expectations and with the extra complications of racial and cultural situations meant I bought and read it soon after.

Final Thought

The main thing I took away from this book was just how much fun it was to read but also how important #ownvoices stories are. Mei is a brilliant character and her growth into her own person is a believable one and yet it still hurts when she makes the only viable choice even though it pulls her away from the people she loves.

Did I enjoy it: Yup, this was just fun to read – even with all of the family drama.
Would I read again: Probably.
Am I glad I read it: Yes, it made me laugh.
Would I recommend: Yes – it’s a fun contemporary YA

2019 Challenges

PopSugar: About a family, Two word title, ownvoices,

 

What’s annoying is I have all these plans for this blog and yet I haven’t had the energy to do anything recently. I know what I want to do but I just don’t always have the time/strength to do it.
But I determined to keep going and to grow this over the next few months – as well as prewriting a number of posts that I can schedule to come out during the week.

Rea

P.S My next review is ‘Kat Wolfe Investigates’

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