Friday, February 16, 2018
YA Pick: American Panda
by Gloria Chao
Tender, heartfelt, and oh, so needed, American Panda delivers a sweet story about learning who you are and finding your voice even if it means disappointing your family or worse, breaking apart your bonds.
Seventeen year old Mei Lu is a freshman at MIT. She is younger than everyone she meets and she doesn't volunteer her age. Her parents have pushed her into studying medicine, but Mei is a germ-a-phobe who carries hand sanitizer everywhere. Her Chinese born parents are traditional and have sacrificed and worked hard to give Mei and disowned older brother Xing an easier lives in a country of opportunity.
As children, Mei and Xing are expected to be dutiful and respectful. This includes following their parents' life plan for each of them. They must marry a good candidate from a Chinese family. Xing must become a doctor or other profession that can make tons of money. As a girl, Mei's spouse must be able to provide for her. This means Mei must marry a doctor or in the very least, a professor. Not as much money, but the prestige factor is enough. Mei's mother makes matchmaking her first priority (remember Mei is only seventeen). Xing makes the mistake of falling in love with a woman who may have trouble conceiving a child. It is of the utmost importance to Mei's father that his own son has a son to carry on the Lu name. Her parents disown Xing and kick him out of the house.
Living in the dorms at MIT, Mei doesn't have the privacy she had hoped for. Her parents know her school schedule by heart. If she doesn't return their phone calls or texts, they want to know where she is and who she is with. Mei's mother is the epitome of a tiger mom. Mei's roommate is Nicolette, and they start off barely tolerating each other. Mei misses her brother who is now a doctor. She longs to speak with him about her own fears: her fear of germs, her hatred of biology, her fear of speaking up to her father. Mei begins to meet Xing in secret.
When Mei finds herself having feelings for two very different, NON-Chinese boys, she keeps that secret as well. Another secret is that Mei has been teaching traditional Chinese dance classes and she loves it. Dancing is her passion, not medicine. Too many secrets are spilling over until Mei finally tells the truth.
American Panda is the story of many first generation Americans whose parents have immigrated from other countries. It is not an Asian story (although it is). It is an immigrant story that so many teens will find themselves in. Whatever country their parents came from, it is likely their parents are traditional in their thinking and customs. The American born children grow up in America and hear about their parents' struggles, but it is not the children's story.
Highly, highly recommended, American Panda is a MUST read. Grades 8 and up. Some profanity.
FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.