book review, young adult

American Panda by Gloria Chao (ARC Review)

Title: American Panda
Author: Gloria Chao
Type: Fiction
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster)
Date published: February 6, 2018

A physical copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

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?

– My Review –

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The style and story in this book were completely different from what I expected! But that’s not a bad thing at all, because it turned out being even better in a way! I think that, due to having come across so many praises for this book, I was worried that my expectations would become too high, and that the book would thereby inevitably fall short. But I’m happy to say that no such thing happened (phew)!

I found Mei’s personality and tone (she’s the narrator for the entire book) to be extremely likeable and funny. This is a very important thing for me, especially when reading books that are written in the first person. I need to click with the character, or reading the book will be tough. I didn’t have to worry over anything like that happening with this book though, because Mei was just great! One of the main focuses of this book is the struggle faced by the children of families who have immigrated into the West. With Mei being of Taiwanese descent, the focus was mostly on how she dealt with the expectations of her Taiwanese parents, as well as balancing Taiwanese culture, and American culture in her life. I am always very interested to see how immigrants from other places in the world deal with having moved to Canada or the U.S., since my parents, my sister, and myself are immigrants in Canada from Romania. I like to see the similarities, and the differences, and I also like to be informed!

I think that Mei had to overcome quite a few obstacles when it came to her parents, and fitting into American culture, and I really felt for her. She also said something that really resonated with me, about not fully belonging in America, and also not fully belonging in Taiwan either, because I feel very similarly about Canada and Romania. That’s the issue with being an immigrant — one never really feels like they 100% belong in any one place. I appreciate that a lot of focus was also placed on Mei’s family, since they are an important part of her life, and the situations of parents obviously matter as well. They had their own struggles to deal with, and it was really great to get that perspective. I particularly liked learning more about Mei’s mom, and I think that she was a great character, and definitely the funniest for me.

The other characters were really well-written, and fleshed-out as well, and I really liked a lot of them. There were people from varying walks of life, and I think that Chao handled talking about all of them in an amazing manner. I absolutely adored Darren Takahashi, and liked a lot of the other characters (for varying reasons) as well. Something that was also quite new for me with this book was learning about the culture at MIT! I’ve always found it amusing and interesting to find out about the traditions of particular universities, and thought it great that some of the universities in my town also have some fun and funny “rituals.”

And, finally, my last points return to the matter of Chao’s writing style in American Panda. Firstly, I wanted to say that I loved that Mandarin (am I correct?) phrases were used in this book, because A) they made the book feel more authentic, B) I’m sure that it must have been great for Mandarin speakers to see them in there, and C) I learned some Mandarin words and phrases! I also liked that some more mature (for the lack of a better word) things were handled in this book, and I also liked how they were handled. I think that a lot of things which were discussed in American Panda really should be discussed by teens and young adults, and I really appreciate that Chao included them in the book. I also appreciated some of the more mature subject matter due to being an adult reading YA!

American Panda was a heartwarming, heartbreaking, and eye-opening read. It was definitely one of my top reads of the year so far (and will likely make my top 10 in December). I highly recommend this book to readers ranging from their teens, into their adult years, those who enjoy reading contemporary, as well as readers who might be wanting to dip their toes into contemporary YA for the first time!

– About the Author –


Gloria Chao is an MIT grad turned dentist turned writer. AMERICAN PANDA is her debut novel, coming out February 6, 2018 from Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster. 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 and find her on Twitter @gloriacchao.

– Purchase Links –

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5 thoughts on “American Panda by Gloria Chao (ARC Review)

  1. Awe! Great review! I freaking loved this book so much. It’s probably one of my favorites of the year so far. Her mom cracked me up throughout the book. The voicemail messages were the best!

  2. Great review! I’m glad that this lived up to the hype for you bc I’m currently struggling with a book that isn’t living up to hype for me (*cough* The Cruel Prince) Themes to do with immigration seems to be a topic that’s been discussed in literature forever and I totally get why, bc it’s a topic that’s always going to be relevant in someone’s life. I’m glad American Panda handled that topic well 🙂

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