Published February 6th 2018 by Simon Pulse
Format read: E-ARC via publisher
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?
But when I confessed this dream to my parents, they gently sat ten-year-old me down, and informed me that acting was a career choice that “our people” simply didn’t do. They pointed out that there were almost no Chinese-American actresses in Hollywood working at that time, and if I wanted to succeed, I would have to come up with a unique skill, like Jackie Chan. Even ten-year-old me could see they were right - there were very few successful Chinese-American actresses., and I’d be a definite minority. Though my parents meant well, that was the day a long-held dream quietly died.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying, representation is important. Visibility is important. If there had been more working Chinese-American actresses at the time, I likely would have fought to achieve my acting dream, verses going into politics. Which is why from the day I heard about Gloria Chao’s American Panda selling to Simon and Schuster, to the day I downloaded an ARC, I’ve been rooting for the book to succeed. Because stories like Chao’s, Chao’s success as a writer, hell - even covers like Chao’s, are the representation we need.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that American Panda is a darned good book, as well. Chao introduces readers to Mei, a seventeen-year-old at MIT. While the overall structure of the story is familiar one - precious teen finds herself and defies parental expectations, all as she works through growing pains in a new environment - it’s Chao’s attention to detail that makes American Panda a solid, worthy tale. Chao writes about Mei’s burgeoning awareness with details that are clearly a byproduct of her own Taiwanese-American upbringing, but imbues such a sense of universality to these experiences, anyone from any culture will relate to Mei.
*Slight spoilers ahead*
While I appreciated every aspect of Mei’s journey, I was particularly appreciative of Chao’s decision to include a subplot involving Mei’s estranged brother. Parental/sibling estrangement is a topic not often discussed in young adult fiction or popular culture, and Chao’s delicate handling of the plot, along with the solid explanations for the estrangement, will be appreciated by any who may find themselves in that position. It’s another example of needed visibility, done thoughtfully.
All in all, Chao is a vibrant rising star, who has written a story that will find a loyal and appreciative audience. It’s my believe that Chao’s book will attract readers like ten-year-old me, who will be inspired to write their own stories and live their dreams, with the sincere knowledge that there are writers like Chao who have already paved the way, and will welcome them in.
About the author:
Gloria Chao is an MIT graduate turned dentist turned writer. She currently lives in Chicago with her ever-supportive husband for whom she became a nine-hole golfer (sometimes seven). She is always up for Dance Dance Revolution, cooperative board games, or spontaneous dance parties. 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 GloriaChao.Wordpress.com.