Review: American Panda by Gloria Chao

by Gloria Chao

An incisive, laugh-out-loud contemporary debut about a Taiwanese-American teen whose parents want her to be a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her squeamishness with germs and crush on a Japanese classmate.

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?


I am not Chinese, nor Taiwanese, nor Japanese, but I am as Asian as I could be and somehow, I could very well relate to Mei with regards to the customs and traditions {superstitions actually| that she and her family had to obey and follow through.

Mei Lu, at the age of 17, is already a freshman in MIT and it’s her first time living away from her parents (although their home is just nearby). Germophobe and isn’t actually interested in her biology classes, Mei’s parents has already instilled in her the value of her chosen profession Having to deal with a very traditional family is killing her, but she can’t refuse nor blatantly disregard their rules. She must marry a fellow Taiwanese who’s going to be a doctor, forget dancing (ballet) because it won’t give you money, there’s no other respectable profession than in the medical field (but being a professor also counts). Don’t engage in premarital sex and no boys allowed until you graduate (unless your mom already has found & selected someone for you to marry). And yes, be a baby-making wife someday.

My most favorite rule though was, Don’t eat too much, you’ll get fat; men don’t like pandas, be a cat.

But as stubborn and curious as she is, Mei is able to find ways to rebel against their wishes and pursue her dreams in hiding.

I was surprised by some of the situations and conditions set in this dysfunctional family. When they disown a family member, they really mean business and will go to greater lengths to avoid that person wherever, whenever. I thought Mei’s parents were ridiculous, I didn’t like her Muqin (mother) and I couldn’t stand her father either. They command Mei’s actions, dictate her every move and control her future. I couldn’t blame Mei for acting a little defiant and unnerving.

The ending was far better than I had imagined, and I am glad there’s maturity and growth among the other characters involved.

I love how Gloria Chao told this beautiful story about social differences and cultural diversity among the characters. To other readers, maybe they see Mei and her brother Xing disrespectful and insolent towards their parents. I get that, I know parents only want what’s best for their children. But not to the point that they get suffocated and couldn’t breathe anymore because of all the responsibilities and duties that the elder ones put on their shoulders.

American Panda is indeed a laugh-out-loud comedy and endearing drama about love for family, love for oneself, love for culture and country and self-realization. It’s a coming of age story that’s sure to win your hearts, both young and young-once alike.



Gloria Chao is an MIT grad turned dentist turned writer. AMERICAN PANDA is her debut novel (out now!) and MISALIGNED is forthcoming fall 2019.

Gloria currently lives in Chicago with her ever-supportive husband, for whom she became a nine-hole golfer (sometimes seven). She is always up for cooperative board games, Dance Dance Revolution, or soup dumplings. 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 and find her on Twitter @gloriacchao.

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