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American Panda
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May 2018: Family Drama > American Panda, Gloria Chao - 3.5 stars

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Hebah (quietdissident) | 675 comments Wow, it turns out a decent chunk of my TBR can be filed under "family drama."

3.5 stars, rounded up.

I admit, the cover on this one misled me a bit. The cover and cute title led me to expect something lighthearted and sweet--and it was, at first. I was not expecting the more serious turns of the story and how prominently the themes of estrangement and inflexibility would play out.

In many ways, this is a familiar story, that of a teen born to first-generation immigrant parents, trying to navigate their expectations and her own wishes. It is clear in the narrative that the rigidness of Mei's parents is not the brush with which all Taiwanese parents are painted, showing a range of experiences in her peers' upbringings. Readers not of that second-generation background may get frustrated with how long it takes for Mei to begin to stand up for herself, but Chao does a nice job showing how difficult it is to make choices that go against every fiber of your programming.

One of the subplots I enjoyed was Mei's reunion with her estranged brother and her finding out what happened to the girl who became a cautionary tale for all Taiwanese-American teens even considering rebellion of parental expectations. It turns out that while her parents' path isn't necessarily the right one for her, it doesn't have to mean throwing away everything about her background, nor does it mean that every black sheep's experience brings the same baggage.

The story and tone feel very young for some of the book, but I give that a pass, given Mei's sheltered upbringing--as a sheltered, homeschooled early college entrant myself, I cringe to think of how young I probably seemed as well. Again, that youngness, like the cover and synopsis, belie the serious choices and consequences of the latter half of the book, making it feel sometimes like middle grade in tone but solidly YA in theme. That bit of dissonance is what holds back the story for me, but I did find it an overall enjoyable read.


message 2: by Joi (new)

Joi (missjoious) | 3834 comments Great review. I had this on my TBR already- but I feel like my expectations will be much more in check after reading your review. Definitely to read when I'm in the mood for the younger side of YA perhaps.


message 3: by Nicole R (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7784 comments Very interesting! It sounds like this is nonfiction?

I have recently heard some people's stories about the pressure of being first-generation American, or sometimes even more pressure if the person comes to America and does well but leaves family in another country, and it is definitely a unique experience!


Hebah (quietdissident) | 675 comments Nicole R wrote: "Very interesting! It sounds like this is nonfiction?

I have recently heard some people's stories about the pressure of being first-generation American, or sometimes even more pressure if the perso..."


No, it's YA fiction, but inspired by real-life. I grew up in a predominantly diverse community, and even if my family wasn't Taiwanese, there's definitely a lot of commonality in experiences.


Hebah (quietdissident) | 675 comments Joi wrote: "Great review. I had this on my TBR already- but I feel like my expectations will be much more in check after reading your review. Definitely to read when I'm in the mood for the younger side of YA ..."

Yes, I think going into it with the right expectation helps. Glad I could help!


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