book review · Shar

American Panda// great focus on belonging to two cultures, not quite executed well

Note: This post written at midnight to the glorious sound of drunken parties, please excuse any incoherency. 

31681276Title: American Panda

Author: Gloria Chao

Genre: YA Contemporary

Themes: growing up, family conflict, culture clashes, germophobia

Similar to: Good Enough by Paula Yoo (in fact, Good Enough is probably better)

Blurb: Mei is starting her first year as a premed major at MIT. She’s finally free of her parents… but not really. She’s dependent on them financially and feeling crushed by their overwhelming expectations. Torn between two cultures, Mei has to find the courage and support she needs to find her own happiness.

It’s interesting that I’m writing this review now, about a week after I read it and about 3 days into my university experience. It’s all still pretty surreal, but I’m already starting to understand a few things about post-high school life I didn’t before. In fact, that’s one of the things I really appreciated about this book: how it was set in university but was still YA. It was a good way to prepare for my experience and I think it’s important to have YA literature beyond high school.

When I read the blurb, I thought American Panda was mostly a rom-com with a bit of a culture clash thrown in. Instead, it was very explicitly focused on Mei’s struggle to find belonging as a part of two cultures. I enjoyed this because, as I’ve said, it’s very relevant to me and my experience. I liked learning about Taiwanese and Chinese culture, but also felt like sometime the book wasn’t subtle enough. Yes, Mei struggles with her place of belonging, but (as a first person narrator), can she actually express herself this clearly? She was kind of like ‘I’m American. But also chinese. I didn’t belong anywhere’ instead of being more confused. It started to feel a bit repetitive? However, I did like her journey to acceptance of a dual culture and sense of belonging.

Part of Mei’s culture issues in American Panda lie with her tiger, typical East Asian immigrant parents. Mei wonders why she isn’t good enough for them and why other Taiwanese parents are more accepting. I understand why her parent’s culture difference was highlighted, but I still feel like their behaviour was a bit extreme, bordering on abusive. It seemed amazing Mei was halfway normal. I liked the development of Mei’s struggle to consolidate her love and need for her parents and dislike of their expectations for her, but felt like she really shouldn’t like her parents as much as she did.

Small things I liked: OCD rep (not explicit) that wasn’t like ‘my mental illness is my life’, people who liked hot chocolate more than coffee, the ending, the ship, the focus on family, Chinese food and dance, realistic sex (and STD) talk, sarcastic narrative voice, a specific setting, and the cover.

Overall, I liked this book and its family and culture focus but didn’t feel it was perfectly executed.


Plot: 3/5

Setting: 5/5

Characters: 4/5

Writing: 3/5

Themes: 3/5

Total: 3/5

 Are you hyped for this? Have you read any other books focusing on the ins and outs of immigrant culture? How much do you fret about germs? 

11 thoughts on “American Panda// great focus on belonging to two cultures, not quite executed well

  1. I’ve been hearing about this book on Twitter. Can’t wait to start reading it! I don’t know much about Taiwanese culture (mainly just Chinese) but I guess they’ll have some similarities.

    Also, the cover is awesome. I’d like to be able to design something like that.


  2. Just like you I love it how books in a setting that is close to my context can take me to new places, perspectives and thoughts about my situation, even if (perhaps because?) the character experiencing the context is different to me. Great review, thanks.
    and good luck with the overwhelming expectations.


  3. Lovely review! I’m really happy you overall enjoyed that one, even if it didn’t feel perfectly executed to you .I have been anticipating this book for a little while now, I love that it features a main character about to go into college and love the emphasis on the two different cultures, finding where you belong and everything else… all I love in my books haha 🙂


    1. I think you’ll like it! It feels like a Marie kind of book 🙂 But then you think about the TBR and WHHHYYYY are there so many great-sounding books in the world? I CAN”T. But I really like books about belonging and culture and also leaving home. Yes.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oooh this sounds really good! Especially since it involves someone entering college…. I feel like we need more books about people in that age range! 🙂 Great review!


    1. Yes! Having now started college (like WHAT) I can verify a lot of it is accurate. I definitely liked a lot of aspects of the book, even if it wasn’t perfect.

      Liked by 1 person

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