It’s controlling Chinese parents to the max in American Panda, a look at one teenage girl finding herself. Unlike so many YA novels, this one is actually set in college: MIT to be exact. There’s tons of POC characters, some really great jokes, and you’ll learn a lot about Chinese/Taiwanese culture. If you can get past your visceral anger about how awful the parents are, you’ll enjoy Mei as a character and fall in love with her growth.
Mei is a 17-year-old super kid. She’s a freshman at MIT, supposedly on the pre-med track, and her parents pride and joy now that they’ve disowned her brother Xing for his choice in women. Unfortunately, Mei is a germaphobe and falls asleep in biology, so being a doctor might be a struggle. Plus, her parents are really overbearing and making college even more difficult for her as they try to marry her off and keep her from being a stereotyped story about failed Asian parenting. Also, Mei is crushing on a Japanese guy, and that’s a big no-no. American Panda follows an good chunk of time in Mei’s life (a year? I can’t really say for sure) as she tries to stand up for herself and to her parents and discover how to straddle the line between her Chinese-American heritage.
First things first, Mei’s parents are AWFUL. Like, I get it, it’s a cultural thing, they have all these traditions, they want best for her, but if you disown your children for anything short of murder you’re a bad parent. I’ll look past the rude comments about her weight and hobbies because parents can be rude about that all the time, but these parents are awful. Yes, there’s some redemption, but every time her mom did something crazy like calling the police on her for not answering the phone or claiming that tampons would take your virginity I wanted to ring her neck. If my mom tried 1/10th of the crap Mei’s parents did I would have faked my own death and moved continents to start a new life. But that aside, the way Mei handled her parents was admirable. She tried her best to grow as a person and respect them but eventually did stand up for herself which made me like her even more as a character. Her germaphobe tendencies also made the story really interesting, especially the early trip to the Urgent Care that made me LOL. I literally laughed out loud. You don’t see that much anymore.
Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot because of the attention to detail on culture and campus and Mei’s strength as a character. The parents literally gave me anxiety as someone who was raised with a pretty lax parent and still succeeded (Hello Yale diploma) but I understand how it worked for the plot to advance Mei as a character. However, I now feel the need to approach every Chinese friend I have and ask if their parents were like this and if they need help. Because these bitches be trippin’. Also, the author uses a good amount of Mandarin language and phrases in the book but it is handled super well. I only know the Mandarin I learned from a children’s show my sister watched but Chao worked it in effortlessly so I could understand everything in context.I feel like I actually learned some Mandarin listening to this book, which is a pretty impressive feat for an author.
Oh, I forgot to mention that the love plotline is adorable and nice but also has its natural problems, so it’s realistic. Darren is a good, realistic love interest that wasn’t too perfect, which is great because ya’ll know MIT boys are nerds too.
I look forward to reading more by this author and am now even more thankful my Mom isn’t crazy.