Gloria Chao’s American Panda: Straddling cultures and finding identity

Gloria Chao’s American Panda on the courage to be yourself even when caught between cultures

American Panda follows seventeen year old Taiwanese-American, Mei. Mei is a germaphobe, forced into a premed program by her very traditional parents. They believe that medicine is a secure and respectable career and they care little about how Mei actually feels about the choice. She is afraid to reveal that she instead would rather own a dance studio. Especially after her brother Xing is disowned for choosing a spouse his parents disapprove of.

Gloria Chao's American Panda

My thoughts

I enjoyed this book immensely which is remarkable because Young Adult literature is not my favorite. Chao writes about deep subjects with ease and thus, although narrated by a teen, American Panda is no walk-over. Asian culture is similar to African culture in many ways and one of such is with regard to parents and career choices. So, it was not hard to relate with Mei’s challenges. Her traditional parents sought to control all her choices from career, to choosing a spouse and even with small things such as her diet. While parents are there to guide their children, there’s a thick line between guiding and completely wresting control.

Looking for some new Young Adult Lit to sink your teeth into? American Panda by Gloria Chao is just right! Read a full review here. Click To Tweet

Gloria Chao’s American Panda is also thought provoking in its consideration of the perpetuation of traditions among immigrants. People who have left their home countries seem to hold on even tighter to traditions, cherishing these as a link to their home. But considering that not all traditions have merit, why continue unnecessary, sometimes stifling traditions? Why not instead begin new traditions? It also challenges the method of child rearing used by most immigrant families: shaming, manipulation and terrifying children into behaving.

Still, the book is far from all-heavy material. There are sweet moments between Mei and Darren, funny scenes with her dramatic family and great camaraderie between Mei and Xing. It also brings to life the ups and downs of college existence in a university like MIT.

In Summary

Gloria Chao’s American Panda is not just for young adults. Anyone who’s ever embarked on the arduous journey to self will enjoy this read. A perfect blend of wit and substance, American Panda is delightful, inspiring and stimulating!


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