Single Sundays: While this blog may be focused on reviewing book series as a whole, we can’t forget about the good ole’ standalone novel! On Sundays, I will review a novel that is considered to be a standalone novel. Here is this week’s offering:
Synopsis for American Panda (from Goodreads):
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?
SERIESous’ Top Picks: Favourite YA Contemporary 2018
Author: Gloria Chao
Genre: Young Adult / New Adult, Contemporary, Coming of Age, Romance, Family
Heat Rating: cool
Point of View: First Person, Single
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Source & Format: Own–Audiobook via Kobo
Why I Picked it Up / My Expectations:
A lot of the blogs I follow reviewed this book around its release date and had nothing but praise for it.
I will admit I was a little scared to read because of said hype but also because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to relate to our lead, Mei. I’m not of Asian decent (though I’m familiar with some of the cultural aspects thanks to close friends) and we don’t have a similar family background, so I was worried some of the humour and situations might be a little lost on me.
But I’ve been proven wrong before and I’ve had a great track-record with listening to the audiobooks of similar stories so I decided to use one of my Kobo Audiobook credits to get the audio version.
Review Spoiler Alert: One of the best decisions I made all year 😉
As I said above, I wasn’t sure how well I would understand Mei’s various situations. I’m not Asian and my parents aren’t immigrants to my country either; I’m a smorgasbord of cultures so I just identify as Canadian. I’ve never felt torn between two cultures like Mei does. And my parents never were nothing but supportive of my educational and professional goals.
But that being said, I still related to Mei on many levels once I started to listen to her story; in particular with her views on family. Regardless of culture, age and the like, I feel like there is a universal feeling that you never want to disappoint your parents or your family. I know I felt that way when I decided in my final year of university that I didn’t want to pursue my original professional school. And I’ve also found myself in situations where it feels like it’s me and my brother vs our parents. So while I might not have a similar situation to Mei and its extremes, I do understand the heart of her inner conflict and that’s what drew me to her story.
Simply put, this is a coming of age story about a girl deciding what she wants out of life. But I never got bored. So many things happen along the way and there’s this great balance between everything. You get a dash of romance, a dash of friendship and a dash of family—everything that makes up great story.
Mei’s a fabulous lead. I loved watching her transform as the story progressed. She has some great character development and you can’t help but root for her as she finds her way. She’s also hilarious with her somewhat awkward ways and personality quirks. Frankly, she’s nothing but adorable and the type of lead who makes a novel amazing.
Also, special shoutout to Mei’s mom. She was a fantastic character and her voicemails to Mei left me in stitches!
Darren made me want to go back to university just to see if I could find someone like him for myself 😛
In all seriousness, the romance was really cute but also an important aspect to the story. Like a romance should in a great coming of age story, it should enhance the story and never distract from it. And I feel like that was what was done here. Her relationship with Darren is key in highlighting Mei’s struggles but I never felt like it became the main focus of her story and I greatly appreciated that.
My Audiobook Experience:
I’m SO SO SO glad I listened to this as an audiobook! Emily Zoo Weller did a great job bringing Mei to life. Her accents were great, all the characters sounded different, and her expressions were awesome. I always consider it a plus when an audiobook can make me cry when a character does and this did that quite a few times. I also laughed hysterically throughout–people driving by probably thought I was crazy as I drove to work.
My Rating: 5/5
One of the best coming of age stories I have read in a long time. I also highly recommend the audiobook!
Read if You Like: coming of age, stories about culture, diverse leads
Avoid if You: want more romance, dislike coming of age
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Wonderful review! I’m so happy you enjoyed this read and could relate to Mei in some ways, too. I read that one a little while ago and really enjoyed it as well, it was such a sweet read 🙂
It was a sweet read! I’m glad I have it as an audiobook–I think it’ll be a good listen to revist in the future.
I don’t think I reviewed this but I read it and loved it! I was working on a post about YA set in college and then I got distracted by life and forgot about it…
It was a great read!
I’ve definitely been there and done that -.- 😛
I’m so glad you enjoyed this one!! It was one of my favorite 2018 releases and a really, really strong debut. I can’t wait to read more by the author one day, and I think you’re spot on with the assessment that the themes are super universal, whether or not you have the same culture/background as the protagonist!
I’m excited to see what she will do next; she definitely has a great talent!
I’m glad you enjoyed it too 😀
I really loved this book too! Now you make me wish I’d listened to the audiobook, though. 🙂
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It was a great audiobook production! I was thoroughly entertained; I’m glad I bought it and didn’t just borrow it from the library.
Amazing review! I completely agree with what you said about Mei’s views on family being something everyone can relate to. I’m also a smorgasbord of cultures, but really related to Mei’s anxieties. Also, I’m in university right now and I’m sad to report, there are no Darrens! If I reread this (knowing me, it won’t be for a really long time), I’ll have to pick up the audiobook! I read this as an ARC on my laptop (not the best reading experience), and still loved it, so I think I would like even more in audio. 🙂
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I think the basis of Mei’s struggles are universal at their core so all readers can relate to them.
haha, yeah, I had no luck finding a Darren when I was at university too 😛
I highly recommend the audiobook if you are going to reread it—it’s fabulous!