American Panda by Gloria Chao (Review & #Giveaway)

If you're in the mood for a coming-of-age story with an Asian flare, check this one out...

American Panda
by Gloria Chao
YA Contemporary
Hardcover & ebook, 320 Pages
February 6th 2018 by Simon Pulse


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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My Review

AMERICAN PANDA is a sweet coming-of-age story about a girl who is finding her place and figuring out who she wants to be. The hard part is that who she really is may be in direct odds of who her parents want her to be. With plenty of cultural mishaps and misunderstandings, old traditions pitted against the rising generation, and a cast of unique characters, there is plenty to sway the protagonist one way or another. The underlying tension, cultural humor, and budding romance keeps the story interesting. Readers will enjoy getting to know Mei and coming along on her journey to self discovery.

This, hands down, is a sweet story. Mei is so naive in so many ways. She's at MIT as a 17-year-old Freshman who skipped a year of school. She's super smart, but she knows how to work hard ,and she doesn't take anything for granted. She's also a huge germaphobe and loves to dance. There is some pretty serious family drama and she really wants her parents to love her for who she is. She wants, more than anything, for them to be proud of her. She finds herself at odds with them more and more, though, especially as she finds she may not be able to stomach the profession they want her to pursue and she's drawn to someone her parents would never approve of. There is constant tension between her and her parents with their expectations.

I really enjoyed how strong the cultural aspect of this story was. It was overly dramatized (or maybe not in some cases for those who this might be real life - I don't know as my friend's Chinese mother is nothing like this), but there was plenty here for sarcasm and humor. Definitely not something to read if you're touchy about that sort of thing as it is fairly prevalent. I enjoyed Mei figuring out what she really enjoyed and wanted to do and be. It was sweet to see her blossom. I also adored Darren! He really was Mei's yin to her yang. I was so pulling for him!

I had just a few complaints. A few parts felt slow to me or didn't quite keep my interest as much as I wanted them to. I also didn't really like the comedy night part because it felt like a whole section of Chinese jokes just written into the book and a lot of it was fairly crass. It just wasn't necessarily enjoyable, but I also got the author's point in including it.

In the end, was it what I wished for? An overall enjoyable read for contemporary YA and coming-of-age fans.

Content: Some swearing (including a few f-words), some crass sections, and some innuendo.
Source: I received a complimentary ARC through the Fantastic Flying Book Club, which did not require a positive review nor affect it in any way.

About the Author

Gloria Chao is an MIT grad turned dentist turned writer. AMERICAN PANDA is her debut novel, coming out February 6, 2018 from Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster.

Gloria currently lives in Chicago with her ever-supportive husband, for whom she became a nine-hole golfer (sometimes seven). She is always up for cooperative board games, Dance Dance Revolution, or soup dumplings. She was also once a black belt in kung-fu and a competitive dancer, but that side of her was drilled and suctioned out.

Visit her tea-and-book-filled world at and find her on Twitter @gloriacchao.

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