Review: American Panda by Gloria Chao

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 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?

I wanted to enjoy American Panda a lot more than I actually did, and for that I'm very sorry. Maybe my hopes were too high going in, or maybe I just didn't really click with the story but so much of this book just didn't work for me.

Let me start with the good; I liked Mei's voice, and I loved the inclusivity this book tried to show. I really enjoyed watching Mei as a character develop over the course of the book and how that also was reflected on the relationships she has with those around her. One character that I particularly loved was Xing, and the scenes with her mum near the end were so well done.

But I just couldn't get to grips with Mei's relationship with Darren, which seemed liked a catalyst for her development but as a result was just instant romance. I hated all of he mandarin sprinkled in. I get that it was to outline the culture, but I don't know mandarin and it sort of disrupted my reading experience. 

I also feel like in some ways this book could achieve the opposite of what it sets out to. Sure, I get that a lot of Asian families are as traditional as Mei's, but some of the scenes seemed so extreme and so outrageous that I didn't really get Mei's family and instead had a negative view of them. Mei's germophobia is a plot device to show that she feels pressure to be a doctor but it's not what she wants, but it was dealt with is such a rough, untidy way that felt sort of angry and forced and selfish to me. That's the main issue that I had with the book.

On top of that, the pacing in this book was jerky and all over the place.

I think that American Panda could have been such a strong and meaningful book, but I think the approach lacked finesse, and the finished result just didn't resonate with me as a reader. 

Book released 6th February 2018 by Simon Pulse
Book received from the publisher/author in exchange for an honest review

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