Book Thoughts

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.

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Journal

Writing:

As a break from the Beasty novel, I did a few touch ups on the novel out for submission and fixed some minor things that were bothering me. I also spent some time on a short story. The short took more than I’d scheduled, but I know I shouldn’t turn down inspiration when it finds me. Honestly, even though I wanted to work on the Beasty novel, I knew I wasn’t  ready to. I’ve learned my lessons!

Inhabiting:

February was the re-start that January didn’t offer. I went through all my things and tried to confront my bad habits. It was a month of adjustments that have felt much needed.

I started with my things: one drawer, one closet, one room at a time. Because I’ve gone konmari on my house before, it wasn’t so difficult this time. Mostly it was time to get rid of things that were broken or worn out or were no longer useful, and also a reminder of what I have. It’s amazing how physically acting on a space can make you feel like you have a bit more control over your life. There is literal baggage to get rid of. Order that’s visible. It’s such a contrast to the writing life, where there is so much you can’t talk about and there is often nothing concrete to admire.

I also started going to the gym and almost look forward to the early morning’s there. The biggest challenge hasn’t been motivating myself  to go, but balancing my blood sugar levels. I’ve been doing a series of experiments to see what I need to eat before and after to ensure I’m not light headed. Some days worked out, and some days didn’t. My writing suffered while I tried to figure the balance, but I feel so much stronger physically that I think I’ll stick to it. In a month I’ve noticed I can walk up the hill to the house without as much trouble and some exercises are easier. I don’t get as tired as fast and I’m sleeping better. I’m far from fit, but taking steps towards better health is another one of those controllable things, when what happens with my writing is not.

And sewing! As usual when I’m in between novels I’ve been firing up the machine. It feels like stretching my creativity, or working a different set of muscles. I’ve been buying indie sewing patterns and been learning a ton. It’s low stakes and enjoyable. I sewed up a foam insert to carry my SLR  camera around in, and I sewed up an over sized sweatshirt that’s so cozy. A finished garment is something I can hold in my hands. Tangible. Real.

Sometimes it’s good to get out of your head.

Reading:

  • Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  • Cold Iron by Stina Leicht

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