Tuesday, April 24, 2018

American Panda by Gloria Chao

Rating: ★★★★ | 7 hours 32 mins | Simon & Schuster Audio | Contemporary YA | 02/06/2018

I'll admit I didn’t mean to read this book. I was listening to audiobook samples on Scribd, trying to find something to listen to when I accidentally clicked on American Panda. By the time I started driving I couldn’t change it and before I was home... I was really into it.

At seventeen years old, Mei Lu is starting her first year at MIT. She is just a few steps away from completing her parent's plans for her to become a doctor, marry a  good Taiwanese man and have Taiwanese babies.  But now that she is on her own Mei is starting to feel the tension between the Taiwanese and American cultures she straddles. She starts to question the things she’s always believed and to make things worse she’s falling for a spiky-haired Japanese co-ed named Darrin.

American Panda is a story about family, empathy and discovering who you are; it’s perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen, especially because of how the romance and mother/daughter storyline evolves. Darrin even has a little "manic pixie dream dude" in him. I have always struggled with YA romances but this one was perfectly executed.

This book is #ownvoices (in fact Chao is a dentist who went to MIT), so I was kind of surprised to see Kirkus rag on it so much for being stereotypical. Yes, there are stereotypes but I think Chao was likely speaking from experience and adds nuance. She unpacks a lot of the stereotypes to explain why they exist. Also, she shows a plurality of experience with other Taiwanese American characters who come in and out of the story.

A big part of this book is Mei being a germaphobe and repeatedly discovering she has no business being a doctor and there is a little bit of body humor and a few moments that I thought were kind of gross. So, if you’re squeamish I would skip a few pages whenever she is around doctors.

Emily Woo Zeller is a veteran narrator with over 200 books to her name. She gives Mei a bright and humorous voice. Doing this on audio was especially helpful for me because I don’t know Mandarin and would have had trouble pronouncing some of it out. There is a point where Mei attends a one-woman comedy show and Zeller really throws herself into the performance.

There are quite a few YA books out right now about what it means to be a first-generation immigrant in America and the struggles of straddling two cultures and this is one you shouldn’t sleep on!

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