Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for American Panda by Gloria Chao!
This is such an amazing #OwnVoices contemporary, and I have a lot of fun things lined up for you! There’s an interview with the author, and even a giveaway (which you should definitely enter!
or maybe not so I can win)
Mei’s a freshman at MIT and is on track to fulfill her predetermined future (as dictated by her parents): become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, and produce a litter of babies.
After all her parents have sacrificed, Mei can’t bear to tell them that she hates germs, falls asleep during biology, and has a crush on her Japanese classmate Darren.
But as Mei reconnects with her estranged brother Xing, she wonders if the secrets are worth it–keeping her true self away from her family as her lies slowly unfold.
American Panda is such a real novel.
As an #OwnVoices depiction of being a first generation Asian-American teen, it hits the bulls eye right in the center.
I’m a first-and-a-half generation (first on one side, second on the other) Asian-American teen, and I totally understand where Chao is coming from, even though my parents are super un-strict (book arrives at house? oh, that’s cool).
But this is real. This is happening every day. It’s not exclusive to everyone who’s not Asian–the idea of parents pressuring their children to fulfill their dreams instead of their children‘s dream is unfortunately reality for many.
And so I applaud Chao for writing this novel for all the people who feel like they have to fit into the boxes other people give them. It’s got a fantastic message and great themes that aren’t just applicable for Asian readers.
But it does hit hard for those who feel like they have to live up to someone else’s expectations or pursue something they’re not passionate about. This book’s message is not limited by race.
Mei is such an awesome character. She’s not super skinny, she has insecurities (that mole on her forehead? better get some bangs to cover it up), and she goes through a few flailures from time to time. She’s got so many complexities and you can understand how she feels like she’s being torn in two between the self she wants to be for herself and the self she wants to be for her parents.
She’s dealing with a plethora of problems, and Chao does a great job at balancing everything that’s happening in Mei’s life while also including information about the culture (even some things I didn’t know!).
Whether it’s Mei’s love life or her desire to dance, she’s got a balanced narrative that moves from one topic to the other very well.
This novel is paced nicely–I sped through the whole thing quite quickly and I had such a fun time reading (it’s also just a really cute book format-wise). It’s plot is mostly-character based, but things happen and there’s never really a dry moment.
The romance is also so cute. I really enjoyed the Mei & Darren flirtationship and the working their way to “like.” Most of the other side characters from her college weren’t super memorable, but I did love the poster girl of Taiwanese what-not-to-do because she created an incredible juxtaposition.
Also, I forgot to mention–college! We need more college-aged YA (that’s not smutty) and I love how this is another one to add to the list. It’s so important because a lot of the teens who read this book have no idea what to really expect in college–while they had lots of reference with all the high school books out there.
Overall, I had a lot of fun reading this and the culture references were so on point (stinky tofu? no thank you.). I love the humor that’s interspersed and sometimes it’s just Mei being an awkward smol bean and other times it’s from silly intercultural misunderstandings.
The only criticism I have is that in Asian-American contemporary YA novels with a large focus on Asian-American-ness, this type of storyline is the most common one (parents who have high expectations). In a way, through exposing people about this aspect of Asian-American culture, it’s also perpetuating the idea that Asian-Americans have tiger parents which leads to stereotypes and comments like “Oh, you’re parents must be so strict!” 😒
This isn’t really a criticism against American Panda because it’s not really the book’s (or Gloria’s) fault. But those who read it should take it with a grain of salt–one Asian-American experience is not representative of the whole Asian-American population.
You should definitely read this–I’m definitely not discouraging you from this. But remember to not take it as everyone’s experience as although I can relate on a certain degree, Mei’s life is far more extreme than mine.
I would totally recommend American Panda to anyone and everyone. If you’re feeling pressured, if you want to read something real,
if you want to ignore all your own problems and think about someone else’s then you should definitely go and get your hands on a copy of American Panda!
And now for the interview portion!
I had a lot of fun coming up with these questions & Gloria imparts some valuable advice for anyone who can relate to Mei’s experiences. Read on for some exclusive content about the novel!
1. Hi Gloria! I’m so excited to interview you today. To start off, can you describe American Panda in a haiku? (Or haikus if you’re really felling up to it.)
Split between two worlds
Can Mei find herself?
2. Your main character Mei is going through a lot during her freshman year at MIT. Between her parent’s expectations, her crush on her Japanese classmate, and fear of germs, Mei’s got a lot to handle. If you could give her one piece of advice, what would it be?
I would tell Mei that she deserves to be loved just as she is and that she needs to learn to love herself.
3. In your bio, you mentioned how you’re a MIT graduate turned dentist turned writer. What advice do you have for students and others who want to pursue a dream but are feeling pressured to do otherwise? How does this relate to Mei’s own personal character arc?
There isn’t one right path so you have to figure out what’s right for you, and sometimes that doesn’t match what your loved ones think is best. Trust your gut, know you aren’t alone, and know that you deserve to be loved no matter what. There are many careers out there and I think life is too short to do something that is a bad fit for you.
This is the same advice I would give Mei at the beginning of the book, though I don’t think she needs it by the end! 😉
4. I know there are some amazing debuts coming out in 2018, and I’m so excited for a lot of them. What’s been the most rewarding aspect to writing your first novel, and what are some debuts you’re excited for?
The most rewarding part of this journey so far has been hearing from readers (of all ages and backgrounds) who connected with Mei and her story. These readers were the ones I wrote the book for and knowing they found each other has been a dream come true. Thank you, everyone, for all the tweets, messages, and fan art that have brought tears to my eyes!
Some debuts I am excited for, in no particular order: Fat Girl On a Plane by Kelly DeVos, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, People Like Us by Dana Mele, Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles, Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, 12 Steps to Normal by Farrah Penn, Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough, Where I Live by Brenda Rufener.
5. Lastly, I just had to add, what are some of the favorite things you experienced in Taiwan when you visited? (I’m not sure of the timeline between when you visited & when you wrote AP.) What elements of this have you incorporated in American Panda?
I was fortunate to have spent many summers in Taiwan while growing up. My grandparents lived there through most of my childhood, and my family would go back for three months at a time. I spent most of my time in Kaohsiung and Taipei, and by far my favorite part of the visits, other than family, was the food. Soup dumplings, Peking duck, shredded turnip cake . . . my mouth is watering just thinking about it! I am also a huge fan of the night markets, and in college, much of my wardrobe was made up of night market finds.
There’s a chapter in the book with references to Mei’s childhood trips to Taiwan. She particularly has fond memories of night markets because it was the one time her parents stopped being frugal Ziploc reusers and treated her to whatever food and trinkets she wanted.
More About the Book
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?
More About the Author
Gloria currently lives in Chicago with her ever-supportive husband, for whom she became a nine-hole golfer (sometimes seven). She is always up for cooperative board games, Dance Dance Revolution, or soup dumplings. She was also once a black belt in kung-fu and a competitive dancer, but that side of her was drilled and suctioned out.
Visit her tea-and-book-filled world at gloriachao.wordpress.com and find her on Twitter @gloriacchao.
Are you excited about American Panda? Because I sure am! If you’re willing to take your chances, enter the giveaway on the Rafflecopter button below (US only) for a chance to win a hardcover copy of American Panda! Good luck!
(If you’re not willing to risk your chances, use the links in the More About the Book section to purchase a copy!)
Thank you to Netgalley, Simon Pulse, and the Fantastic Flying Book Club for providing me with a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review & letting me be a part of this blog tour! Don’t forget to check out the other stops!
What do you think of the synopsis? Are you excited for American Panda?