Summary: Mei has always tried to meet her parents’ expectations. After all, at seventeen year old, she should be a high school senior, not a freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her parents’ biggest expectation? Going to MIT as a biology major to then go to medical school at Harvard and become a doctor. Mei’s biggest problem? Mei hates germs. Her dilemma grows worse when she only has eyes for Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese– only Taiwanese boys are allowed for Mama Lu’s daughter. After seeing her brother disowned by her family for dating the wrong woman, Mei can’t bring herself to tell her parents the truth, but she can’t live with lies either.
My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
College YA & American Panda Thoughts:
Spring break finally allowed me to read Gloria Chao’s American Panda. I’ve seen nothing but great reviews for Gloria Chao’s debut novel following a COLLEGE freshman. Why the emphasis on college there? BECAUSE I LOVE BOOKS WITH COLLEGE-AGED PROTAGONISTS OR CHARACTERS WHO ARE IN COLLEGE!
Young adults aren’t only found in high school, folks. YA, or at least YA contemporary, is typically categorized as such because the central characters often experience some sort of “first”. But let me tell you, college is filled with plenty of young adults and firsts, and I’m not just talking about having to do your laundry for the first time.
So why I am always on the lookout for college YA?
I’m a college student. Give me people who also live in dorm rooms and live away from home and have to operate on -3 hours of sleep and go to class.
Growing pains. Yes, I love plenty of YA books with high school aged characters, but as I get more mature (fine, older), I find myself not being able to relate the problems that come with being a high school student and the drama as much.
So why did I love American Panda for being a college YA?
Mei is somewhat more able to stand up to her parents. Yes, potentially being disowned as a college student whose parents pay for your tuition has a lot of problems, but being away at school acted as some sort of barrier between Mei and her parents. I also appreciated her hot chocolate time with Darren.
MEI GOES TO CLASS AND DOES STUDENT-LIKE THINGS, INCLUDING HOMEWORK. Even though I still want to know if she goes to the dining hall or even has a meal plan.
The balance between school and family. I would say the biggest element of American Panda is family, but it was nice to see Mei be able to live her life at school and then spend time with her family. Contrary to her roommate’s belief, some college students (ME) don’t mind seeing their families on the weekend.
There’s no partying or drinking. Yes, this is definitely a no-no on her parents’ list, but I loved how Mei is never tempted to party and has no effect on the plot.
So what else did I love about American Panda?
Mei is Taiwanese-American, but her parents expect her to follow their Chinese traditions and expectations. I really enjoyed learning more about Chinese culture (sidenote: where can I found a Domaeron plush??), and I would love to see more books with characters and authors of such diverse backgrounds. While her family’s expectations drive Mei nuts, I liked how she still appreciated her culture. For example, a lot of Mei’s dancing is infused with Chinese dance, and she acts as a mentor/teacher for young girls of a similar background.
Mei’s mom’s voicemail intros for each chapter were hilarious. I liked how they became a bit more heartwarming toward the end (even though her wisdom and tidbits about Ying-Na were funny), and I’m happy about the state of Mei and her mom’s relationship at the end of the novel.
I read the entire book in a day! Plenty of people are able to read a book in just one sitting, but I haven’t had the opportunity to in a long time. Snow days are good for something! I also found myself not wanting to part with American Panda because I needed to know what happened then and there. I highly recommend reading American Panda for a readathon or de-reading slump motivation because it’s such an addicting read and on the shorter side (just over 300 pages).
While I loved American Panda overall, there were a few things I didn’t enjoy just as much:
There was a lot of MIT lingo that I felt could easily have been replaced with regular college lingo. For example, instead of Mei using the course numbers to say what class she was in, she could have just said Intro to Bio or Calculus 101. However, I think readers who are familiar with MIT/are current MIT students/are past MIT students/are MIT tourists like the ones we see in the book will really appreciate all the MIT-ness, and it was a cool personal touch from Gloria Chao, a MIT grad.
Some of the chapters, especially in the beginning, jumped around a tad much and I was quite confused. I’m specifically talking about Chapters 5 and 6, where Mei has to go to the medical center. I realize now it’s used as a jump start for Mei to realize she doesn’t want to be a doctor, but I felt like it was just thrown at us. We go from her having dinner to her parents to then going to the medical center at 3 AM and finding out she has herpes (trust me, not a spoiler) and having a weird encounter with Dr. Chang??? I really couldn’t distinguish between reality or if Mei was having a stress dream of sorts.
Have you read American Panda? What college YA books do you enjoy? Share in the comments!