Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Books I've Loved: American Panda

I've been excited to read this book ever since I read excerpts from it while judging for Write Club. And it didn't disappoint! This was such a fun read, I devoured the whole thing on Sunday.

Clearly written from experience, American Panda tells the story of Mei, an over-acheiving Taiwanese-American struggling to find herself while juggling traditional values and parental expectations.  

Being only seventeen and at an Ivy League college would be a big enough struggle, without throwing in the fact Mei's parents are dead set on her becoming a doctor.  So Mei is enrolled in all the right classes to set her on that track, despite the fact biology bores her to tears and she is way to conscious of germs lurking everywhere.

Her true love is dance, but her parents don't see that as a suitable career - certainly not one that will impress other Taiwanese parents, especially those with eligible sons.  Sons Mei isn't interested in meeting because she's already met Darren, the handsome Californian with Japanese roots.

As she struggles to balance her own needs with her parents' demands, Mei finds herself increasingly torn and reaches out to her estranged brother who has been cut off by the family for dating an unsuitable woman.  She is surprised to find him happy and unrepentant and starts to wonder if trying to fit herslf into a box that is clearly the wrong size and shape is worth the lies and heartbreak.

While I'm sure this book doesn't represent the experiences of all Asian Americans, it feels wholly honest to the author's experiences.  I can imagine that re-living these experiences and emotions must have been incredibly difficult, but Chao has managed to write a book that is both touching and hilariously funny.  The characters are authentic and never ridiculed, even when Mei is at her most exasperated at the cultural gap between herself and her family.

Highly recommended!

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

An incisive, laugh-out-loud contemporary debut about a Taiwanese-American teen whose parents want her to be a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her squeamishness with germs and crush on a Japanese classmate.

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?