Daily Archives: February 18, 2018

American Panda by Gloria Chao


by Gloria Chao
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Seventeen-year-old Mei Lu is a freshman at MIT (because her parents said so; she skipped a grade and they dictated the college); pre-med (because her parents said so; she’s a germophobe), effectively an only child (because her parents said so; they disowned her brother), but also, American (because her parents said so; they sacrificed everything for her and her brother). But when her American identity clashes with their very strict, very traditional Chinese beliefs, there’s trouble ahead. Big trouble. And not all of it is named Darren Takahashi, a fellow freshman who steals her heart.

Mei also has to forge her own relationship with her brother, change her major from pre-med to, well, almost anything else (as long as it involves math, which she loves), continue to dance and teach dance, and pursue a relationship with Darren – all without her parents finding out. If they find out, she’ll be disowned just like her brother, Xing. Of course, she starts off the book being an obedient (if conflicted) daughter, so these are not her goals at the outset, and her journey to having the strength to go against her parents is the fascinating part. I loved watching Mei grow and also feel like my own compassion for my Taiwanese friends has taken on new depths. One, a college roommate, is now an artist and I can’t imagine what she had to go through to get where she is today. I also enjoyed watching Mei and her roommate, Nicolette’s, relationship grow. Best of all, I loved hearing Mei narrate what goes on for her when she dances, even times when dancing fails to help her work through whatever’s got her down. And of course, I enjoyed seeing MIT’s campus and Chinatown here in Boston through Mei’s (and Chao’s) eyes.

There is much discussion (though not graphically) of sex and STDs, as Mei shadows her campus health center gynecologist for the day. The gynecologist, a young doctor named Tina Cheng, is an interesting if not entirely believable character, so timid she is able to be pushed around by Mei into letting her shadow for the day when some issues of patient confidentiality come up. Mei’s relationship with Darren is limited to kissing and nothing else, so there’s not much there that’s unsuitable for younger teen readers (I’d even give it to some precocious middle schoolers, honestly).