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?
American Panda is one of those books that I was curious about from the beginning but waited on because of the hype. It seemed like everyone who read ARCs of this or read it shortly after its release absolutely loved it, and that’s too much pressure for me. I hate being the lone dissenter. So I gave it about a year and a half and then jumped in, and guess what? The hype was real. This book was so good!
First, I loved that this was YA set in college. Mei is seventeen years old, so while she should be experiencing the end of high school, she’s actually venturing out on her own to start college. Her mom worries about her a lot, understandable, I think, for a seventeen-year-old living on their own, and her frequent voicemails that are interspersed throughout the book only make it better.
Second, I loved that while Mei’s hopes and dreams didn’t match up with those of her parents, she was so respectful of them. Mei is willing to do just about anything to make her parents proud and this was so nice to see. I mean, she definitely takes it too far sometimes, but that’s one of the main points of this book — how far should you go for the people who have sacrificed everything for you?
Another thing I really loved was that Mei’s main problem with being a doctor is her phobia of germs. She’s always carrying around her little bottle of hand sanitizer (I can relate) and there’s just nothing appealing to her about dealing with sick people. I worked in a hospital for seven years in an administrative position and I was asked countless times why I didn’t want to go back to school to be a nurse or doctor. I feel like Mei would understand me. The only sick people I can handle are the ones I love, and even then it’s a stretch.
The only thing I didn’t love about this book was that Mei’s actual hopes and dreams seemed to get lost between the main conflict and the (very cute) romance. But other than that, this was a great, feel-good contemporary that I would highly recommend!
Have you read American Panda? Is it on your TBR?
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