Book Thoughts

Reading: American Panda

American Panda Book Cover American Panda
Gloria Chao
Young Adult Fiction
Simon and Schuster
February 6, 2018
320

Mei is a Taiwanese-American teen who is following the path her parents set for her: go to MIT, become a doctor, and marry a Taiwanese boy they approve of. The problem is, she's a germophobe and is crushing on a Japanese classmate.

Oh my heart. I nearly had a panic attack reading the first chapter of this book (Those voice mails could have been lifted from my phone...). I got sucked back in time to  a place I haven't really wanted to remember. At the same time, this story is just what I would have needed to read both back then, and as I grapple with family expectations now.

I wonder what non-Asian readers might think of Mei's family, but I think Chao did an amazing job depicting both the cultural  and emotional struggles of trying to do right by your very traditional Asian family when their idea of a successful life has nothing to do with your happiness.

The story doesn't shy away from the uglier parts of the culture, but neither does it paint it as good or bad. One of the biggest lessons Mei learns is how everyone interprets a culture differently, and sometimes you have to pick and choose which things are most important to you. Mei's choices come at great cost, but any route she would have taken would have had a cost.

Despite everything I've said here, this is not a sad story! It's funny, cute, and heartwarming at the same time. It's about Mei coming into who she is, about family, about culture, about food, about university. Filial piety is a tricky subject to navigate, but Chao does it with deftness, honesty, and humor.

2 Comments

  1. “One of the biggest lessons Mei learns is how everyone interprets a culture differently, and sometimes you have to pick and choose which things are most important to you. Mei’s choices come at great cost, but any route she would have taken would have had a cost.”

    Ooo, I love that.

    I have a copy of this on my night stand and am looking forward to diving in, when I get a chance! My parents have always been fairly supportive of my dreams, and yet I have still felt a lot of cultural/familial conflict over the years, along with other (perhaps more superficial) parallels to Mei.

    I can’t remember, did you read WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI too? This seems to be exploring similar themes.

    Reply
    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      Yup! “When Dimple Met Rishi” and “Love Hate and Other Filters” all tackle the same high school / university transition & family conflicts but from different cultural perspectives!

      But this one, oh man, it was too close to home. E read a bit of American Panda and couldn’t stop laughing, because her mom is totally like my mom, down to the nose pinching and doctor dreams… ;D

      Reply

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