Friday, January 19, 2018

Review: American Panda

American Panda by Gloria Chao
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: February 6th, 2018
Source: Netgalley
Date Read: 1/14/18 to 1/15/18
320 pages

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?
I received this ARC in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from ARC may or may not be in the published edition.

I don't think I've ever encountered as many feelings as I did with American Panda, a highly anticipated book written by an #ownvoices Taiwanese-American author. I'm not going to lie, I don't think I got out of this unscathed. But at the same time, this book will add so much to the community.

Mei is starting her undergraduate career at MIT. At only 17 years old and on the pre-med track, she's every Taiwanese family's dream. Except that she actually doesn't want to be a doctor (gasp). Instead, her passion is in dance, and her dream is to open her own dance studio. Unfortunately, chasing after her dreams leads to the risk of being disowned by her parents.

"I heard from Mrs. Tian who heard from Mrs. Lin that Ying-Na tried to make it in LA as an actress but couldn't. They even stopped paying her to take off her clothes. You're studying hard, right? Make me and Bàba proud. This is your mŭqīn."

I have many, many thoughts about this book, that it may even seem like I hated it. I really thought this would be the case in the beginning. There were so times where I read a few pages, looked up to contemplate my future or my past, spent a few minutes on Twitter, and only then was I ready to get back to reading. I'll start with the things that bother me the most, and then go from there.

Examples of Things That Bothered Me:
  • This is minor, but Mei not wearing glasses because her mom thinks they look ugly on her. Problem, is that you need glasses to see, AND to study (how can you see the board/lecture during your classes?) This is so counterintuitive!
  • I really disliked the scene where one of the characters barged into Dr. Chang's office, demanding that her chlamydia problem needed to be fixed NOW, or she wasn't leaving. Like how rude and disrespectful?

The above two are really examples of how over the top I felt this book was. For one, I'm not sure if I can explain this properly, but it felt as if all of Taiwanese-American culture was crammed within 300 pages. Every little horrible thing that happened to Mei within the first 30 pages, happened to me within maybe a year or so. I also felt like some things were very much exaggerated, for example no Asian-American goes around saying they won't be friends with you because your family killed their family in a war years ago. Furthermore, although the Mandarin is easy to understand for me, the same won't be said for everyone else. There are many Chinese idioms and phrases throughout the book, some of which not thoroughly explained, which could definitely lead to confusion.

I say all of this but once I hit the halfway mark, things started looking up. There was less setting up of the Taiwanese-American experience, and more of exploring Mei's wants and dreams. And her relationship with Darren, a Japanese-American boy who obviously her parents would disapprove of. The second half also had much more "showing" rather than "telling" overall, especially with the introduction of Nicolette and Ying-Na (my favorite character ha).

And of course, this is the point where Mei FINALLY rebels against her parents, so that's always fun. 

Overall, I still want to emphasize that this book is important. For one, and as Mei comes to realize herself, not all Asian families are the same. They are strict or lenient (or horrible) in their own way. And so obviously my experience or my friends' experiences will not be the same as Mei's. I think one of the main reasons I didn't absolutely love this, was because I related way too much to the main character (which did bring up some negative feelings, and just made this hard to read overall). For that reason, I've rounded up my 3.5 rating to 4 stars on Goodreads (I usually round down because I'm mean like that). Though I've kept the original rating here on my blog.

Also, fun note to end on, there's a random minor character mentioned in passing named Valerie, in which we find out she has a yeast infection. Obviously, I feel personally attacked J
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