Book Review: American Panda

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Synopsis

Seventeen-year-old Mei has just started at MIT as a premed student. Her Taiwanese parents have pressured her all her life to do well in school so that she can become a doctor one day, but weeks into her first semester Mei decides it’s not what she wants. She hates studying biology, is terrified of germs, and after observing a doctor at the MIT student clinic for a day, she knows for certain she cannot continue down this path. Her brother, Xing, was disowned by the family years ago for going against their parents wishes, but surely they wouldn’t disown Mei, too?

What Mei really loves is dancing and teaching dance, and she knows there is zero chance of her parents accepting this as a viable career option for her, let alone a spare-time hobby she could do instead of studying. Mei starts to keep more secrets from her parents than she can count, and the metaphorical overstuffed dumpling that she envisions is about to burst and when it does, it won’t be pretty.

Review

This book is as much a charming coming-of-age story as it is an incredibly powerful telling of being a first generation American with immigrant parents. Gloria Chao expertly immerses you into Mei’s life so that even if you didn’t grow up in a Taiwanese American household, you have a complete understanding of Mei and her family. Readers who have struggled with the high-school-to-college experience will be able to relate to the difficulties Mei faces while being away from home; not to mention, anyone who has ever had a disagreement with their parents about pretty much anything will be able to relate to Mei and her experience, too.

The ending made me tear up, and it wasn’t an ending I would have been able to predict. Like I said, it was a very powerful story. I could read an entire series about Mei although I don’t think her story will become a series (who knows?) but it should. Chao states in an author’s note at the end that this is the book she needed when she told her parents she no longer wanted to be a doctor, and I found that to be very moving. I am certain there are kids or teens out there who need this book. I am so glad that it exists for all of us to learn from her experiences.

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