American Panda

American Panda

by Gloria Chao


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“Weepingly funny.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Delightful.” —Buzzfeed
“Charmed my socks off.” —David Arnold, New York Times bestselling author of Kids of Appetite and Mosquitoland

Four starred reviews for this 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?

From debut author Gloria Chao comes a hilarious, heartfelt tale of how, unlike the panda, life isn’t always so black and white.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781481499101
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 02/06/2018
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 109,193
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Gloria Chao is the critically acclaimed author of American Panda and Our Wayward Fate. Her wayward journey to fiction included studying business at MIT, then becoming a dentist. Gloria was once a black belt in kung-fu and an avid dancer, but nowadays you can find her teaming up with her husband on the curling ice. Visit her tea-and-book-filled world at and find her on Twitter and Instagram @GloriacChao.

Read an Excerpt

American Panda

  • Voicemail from my mother

    Remember Amberly Ahn? She had eyelid surgery and it turned out great. We should think about doing that for you. Maybe we can tattoo your makeup on at the same time. Remember, there are no ugly women, only lazy women. Repeat that three times every morning.

    And don’t forget, “mei” means “beautiful” in Chinese. Live up to the name I chose for you.

    Oh, and it’s your muqin.

  • Customer Reviews

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    American Panda 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
    Kimberly_Gabriel More than 1 year ago
    This book was fantastic. It's #ownvoices about a Taiwanese-American MIT student trying to figure out who she is and how she can balance her two cultures. During this internal struggle, Mei is a likable, relatable, funny, and smart character who felt so real to me as I was reading. All of Chao's characters were fully fleshed out and the complicated relationships between them sucked me into their narrative and kept me turning the pages, especially the YA romance. American Panda grows intense at times as Mei navigates difficult situations, and at other times the witty, light-hearted banter had me laughing out loud. This is a book that will stay with me long after I've read it. Gloria Chao's debut is so brilliant, I can't wait to see what she writes next.
    RememberingJulie More than 1 year ago
    This was wonderfully written with an ADORABLE romance and a lovely friendship and a girl figuring out what she wants to do with her life and exploring her familial relationships as well as her relationship to her culture and I loved it SO much. Gloria Chao is going on my auto-buy list.
    alyssayuri More than 1 year ago
    At seventeen, Mei is now a a freshman in MIT. Just what her parents had planned. But that's the thing, it's seems like everything is planned by her parents. Her taking up Pre-Med, the guy that she's going to marry, and even the food she has to eat are all planned by her parents. And of course, her growing crush on a Japanese boy won't be allowed by her parents. This is so relatable! I loved it so much! I remember obeying to my parents wishes when I was growing up. But the thing is, I discovered that I always had freedom with the final answer. But still, reading this book made me realize how much I relate to Mei. I love how Mei thoughts are. The way she thinks that she wants her freedom but she also wants to please her family are so well put in place. Family are always such an important thing. And I like the way this book made sure that Mei can't just go emancipate herself. Characters are amazing! Even the minor ones. They made sure that they make a mark on Mei's life, realizations, and choices. The drama in this book is so enticing! It's not the oh-my-gosh-this-is-so-sad-drama, but it's just so realistic, it's so good! Some things I didn't like, though the romance aspect of this book is cute, we have another love interest who's flawless and amazing... So... yeah... I also wish that there was more brother-sister relationship. It's part of the book description so I though there was going to so much more, and more significance to it. Amazing debut! Pretty good stuff!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Really cute and love the college setting. As someone about to enter college I found this relatable and comforting.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This book was very intriguing but hilarious! As a fellow Asian, I understood all of Mei's daily dilemmas and her overbearing parents!
    Kyera More than 1 year ago
    American Panda is an adorable contemporary book that follows Mei as she navigates the line between her dreams and her parents'. As a Taiwanese-American, she struggles with the expectations her parents have of her as a perfect, dutiful daughter who is a doctor. Unfortunately, biology bores her and she hates germs. I really enjoyed reading about her journey and getting to know Mei. Her struggle felt authentic and I really felt for her plight. It's tough to want something other than what your parents expect from you and she cannot imagine a world in which she defies them. I appreciated the diversity and representation that this book provides to the YA book world, as it is great to see the main character represented on the cover and the book was own voices. Darren was my favourite character in the book and I liked how he balanced Mei's character. He was Japanese-American, but didn't have the same expectations from his parents. Although they wanted him close to home he realized that he needed to do what is best for him. He provided us with a different view of the situation, and he was very likable. Their interactions were super cute and so classic YA contemporary. It was a nice break from the fantasy that I had been reading and exactly the palate cleanser that I needed. I was rooting for them the entire time because they were so adorable. Despite the less than perfect family dynamic, I really loved seeing the depth that Chao gave to her characters. They felt authentic with their ups and downs, fights and struggles, as well as uplifting feelings of support that shone through at times. I was really impressed by the fact that Gloria Chao is a debut author. The pacing was good and the plot was engaging, but the characters are what shone for me. This is definitely the perfect "feel good" YA contemporary book to lift your mood and make you have all the feels.
    mindofabookdragon More than 1 year ago
    Mei was awesome. I loved getting to know her and the story was amazing. I couldn’t put it down! There were times that I was laughing out loud walking around campus. It was cute and funny. Here are a few comments I made right afterward: This book FLEW BY for me! I couldn’t put this one down. I loved Mei and I loved her personal journey throughout the whole story. It was exhilarating, and I loved every moment of it. I wanted to finish this in time for the event that coming Saturday and I finished in time for my friends to even finish the book, too. This was a quick, sweet read. Mei’s parents are big characters in this book, and their presence is felt throughout the story. Mei’s mom was well-meaning and loving. She tries to do a lot for Mei so Mei can focus on studying. I understand where they’re coming from, and from what I can tell this is a very accurate snapshot of what it’s like to grow up with Taiwanese parents. (I cannot speak from personal experience because my parents are Caucasian and American, though I am Chinese.) Chao pulled a lot of personal feelings and emotions into this story, and I appreciate the accuracy of her representation. Another aspect I really liked about the book was her representation, even with the cover art. You never notice the lack of rep on covers until you see it, and you wonder why you haven’t see it before. I don’t see a lot of books with Chinese women or other Asian-American/Asian out in the world, but I love the recent efforts made by those women to write their stories. This book does a good job of having diverse characters but not having that as the main focus of it. The story centers on Mei coming into her own in her freshman year of college. This setting is also something that isn’t often written in. I found that a lot of stories are about adults or high schoolers, especially seniors. This is another thing done well by Chao. She captures the freshman experience within her novel. Freshman year of college is a huge transition, and I think that Mei went through a lot of the things I’ve felt this year so far. She is trying hard to set herself apart from her parents while still needing their help. She wants to do things her way and must balance the wishes of her parents. One thing I do wish it had done better was talk about Mei’s mental health. There are small conversations about it here and there, but it’s never addressed head on. However, I can see that it wasn’t the full part of the story so I can see why it wasn’t completely talked about. I feel like I could talk about this book for days, but I’ll wrap it up here. I had an amazing time at the event at 57th Street Books. This is one of my favorite bookstores to visit, and I make sure to go when I’m in the area. Here’s a photo! [photo on blog] Happy reading, Sophie
    GratefulGrandma More than 1 year ago
    Mei is a 17-year-old MIT student, pushed by her parents to become a doctor because they know what is best for her. The fact that she is a germaphobe and falls asleep in biology classes will make that just a bit difficult for her. Her mother wants her to marry a smart boy who is also Taiwanese so there will be two doctors in the family, but she wants to marry for love. On and on it goes, a struggle between her Taiwanese culture and the Chinese American culture. She has been taught to honor her parents by obeying them, but they do not know what she wants out of life. When she says no, the problems escalate. Can this family mend itself? The characters were compelling and well written. You can feel Mei's sadness and confusion as she tries hard to be what her parents want her to be, but becomes unhappier all the time. When she meets Darren and he enjoys her sense of humor and wants to help her deal with all her issues, again she feel for this young woman who is so unsure of what to do. I loved Mei’s mom. She was actually quite funny, even if that was not what she intended. She was a very repressed woman who followed customs and beliefs, even if they made her unhappy. When Mei finally got through to her that it was okay to be happy and stand up for herself, it was great to see the small changes she made. Nic, Mei's roommate was another great character, she also helped her to see what she was missing out on. The other family members helped to paint a picture of the struggles that Chinese American children go through when they are caught between two very different cultures. I enjoyed the writing in the book and the plot flowed nicely, with a few slow places in the middle of the book. Overall this is a great YA entry that would be a good book to read for any struggling teens dealing with the clash of two different cultures. The publisher generously provided me with a copy of this book via Netgalley.
    Take_Me_AwayPH More than 1 year ago
    I remember adding this and wanting this when all I had seen about it was the cover. I LOVED seeing a POC on the cover and it made my heart skip a beat. And then when the synopsis came out, it I knew it was something I HAD to read. Mei is a freshman at MIT at the age of 17. And that's just one of the things she's doing to make her parents happy. But she's never once thought about what makes her happy. But as time goes on, she watches those around her and realizes that there is more to life than putting other people before yourself. I picked this up after a creepy read because I wanted something fluffy and funny to read right after it. And I definitely picked the right thing. American Panda really did make me laugh out loud. I loved being inside Mei's head because she was the awkward type of funny that I am as well. And because of that, I laughed at all her corny jokes and sometimes I laughed so hard I snorted water out my nose. I also really liked the characters. They all made the story for me. I loved that no matter how big the character was in the story, they all had an equally important role. Also, Mei was sucha fun character to get to know. It was such a fun ride to being inside her head and watching her grow and find out so much about herself. But what I loved most about this book was learning about the Taiwanese culture. It was great to learn about another culture and some of their beliefs and customs. I found many of them very interesting and tried to learn more about them. However, I was not a fan of the plot. It moved a touch too slow for me. It seemed as if everything was based on the internal war that Mei was having with herself and since that isn't resolved until the end, it took quite a while for the twists and turns to come out. American Panda is a very cute read that will also make you FEEL. It's a fluffy read, but still has enough heart to warm the reader, just like the hot chocolate on the cover.
    BookPrincessReviews More than 1 year ago
    OKAY, THIS WAS ADORABLE AND I TRULY HAD FORGOTTEN JUST HOW FEELY AND CUTE AND JUST TOO MUCH GOODNESS THAT YA CONTEMPORARY CAN BE. This review is probably going to be a mess, but I just couldn't handle the fluffy feels and then the feely feels and JUST. THE. FEELS. To be completely honest, I wasn't fully sure what I was getting when I picked this book up. I had kind of totally forgotten what this book was about, but I had seen a few blogger friends give it high ratings in the past few days plus my mother offered to buy me a book so it was this or Reign of the Fallen, and by the book gods, I totally made the right choice. This was one of the most well done contemporaries I've read in such a long time with the equal amount of adorableness and seriousness. Let's start with Mei. Omigosh, I loved Mei. She is SO relatable. I mean, I literally felt like I was her at times. She has such a dynamic voice, and I just loved her so much. She was so funny, and she was so distinct, and I JUST FELT FOR HER. I want to hug her. She had such passion and her inner turmoil was just so reallllllllllllllllllllllll. Okay, this book was so good that I can't even describe what Mei was like other than really good - literally at a loss for good words. I also can't believe Chao is a debut author. She writes with such finesse that is easy and breezy. She includes so much light-heartedness along with the depth that hits you hard in the heart. She had enough funnies and funny situation that allowed for some great comedy but it never felt like it was too outrageous or outlandish. I literally laughed out loud a few times, because a few moments were just that great. It just fit wonderfully altogether. The last 30% pacing did lag a bit more than the first part, but it was still quite enjoyable. Also, the way that Chao wove in the Taiwanese culture was just brilliant. It added just this big, bright dimension to the story, and it was so vibrant and I loved every second of it. The other supporting characters were great as well. I loved reading about the Lu family, and see all of their little dynamics. Each voice and character had their own distinct personality to them, and I could easily pick all of the characters if they were in a lineup with only a few sentences to describe them - I mean, why that would happen, idk, but they across that well. Even if I didn't agree or like what some of the characters were doing, I still appreciated the depth and well done characterization that they had. And Darrennnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn. Omigosh, such heart eyes. I was sooooooooooooo into this ship. IT WAS JUST SO CUTE. I kept whispering makeithappenmakeithappenmakeithappenmakeithappenmakeithappenmakeithappen. They easily brought out the best in one another, and they never tried to change one another - they just tried to get each other to see a new perspective. The mutual respect was beautiful, and it's been such a long time since this girl who has such a love for swoons actually swooned - but this book did it. The conflict built up throughout the book, and I felt like it was super well done to get us to a climax. Sometimes in a contemporary, you're sitting there going, but, um, does this have a plot? But this book totally did and it was just a fantastic coming of age story. I also loved the college setting. MIT sounds so cool, and I loved the feel of it. If you're looking for a college set YA, I'm going to be a super book pusher here with this one.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This is a deeply enjoyable book on so many levels. It's funny, it's relatable, and it's an awesome bit of storytelling that will just draw you in and not let go. Can't recommend highly enough!
    JenLBW More than 1 year ago
    I loved American Panda. It’s such a great insight into Taiwanese-American culture. I really loved getting to know and understand Mei’s family, as well as experiencing her finding that balance between tradition and the things she wants for her own life. I loved Mei. She is bright and funny and just someone I wish I was friends with. I felt bad that she feels like she had to hide her aversion to germs. Which is another reason she struggles with the career path her parents have chosen for her. She has a love of dance and the arts and also math. She might be frustrated with her family but she truly loves them. The book deals a lot with what it is like to move to another country with different values then what you are raised. As well as with different eras and moving forward with the times. My grandparents were immigrants from Lithuania and there was certain things I found I could relate to. It’s easy to judge someone else’s family without understanding where they are coming from. My grandma came to America at 16 with no parents and pretty much no belongings. She was lucky to have family here already but her outlook on the world was just different. She often put me down, thinking that it would make me work harder. Strange ideology yes but it made me understand Mei better. I loved learning about Mei’s family and their traditions. Yes Mei’s mom wants her to be a doctor and marry well but you really get to see why. Why does her mother want these things for her, how does the culture and traditions influence that. I just felt like there is so much depth to the storytelling in that respect. Mei’s relationship with her mother is a big focus. I liked seeing how it changes and evolves in the book as Mei is trying to find her voice. She doesn’t want to hurt her parents, especially her mom and you see her struggle with this. She does appreciate what they have done for her, but also sees a different perspective of what they are expecting from spending time Xing. I really liked the voicemails and the information about why certain chapter numbers are missing. The MIT setting is so much fun. Especially since Gloria Chao is a graduate of the school herself. It made it feel like you were getting a secret inside view. I loved all the different lingo that MIT students have for things and all the different things they do. It made me miss college a little. Mei and Darren’s relationship is the cutest thing ever. I loved how awkward they are! I loved that it’s both of them at different times. I enjoyed reading about their relationship. It made me smile. American Panda is such a great story! I really loved everything about it.
    ahyperboliclife More than 1 year ago
    “There was no right or wrong decision here. No morality. Just two roads, leading in different directions but both ending in heartbreak. Life was, as I was finding out, Choose Your Own Adventure with most of the fun stripped away.” What a great contemporary read! I mean it was genuinely fantastic, filled with humor, heart, amazing characters, basically everything you could ever want in a story. American Panda follows Mei as she starts her first year at MIT under the mounting expectations of her Taiwanese parents. Mei must decide who she is and what she wants, while trying to please her parents. Things I Liked There was so much incredible humor in this story that I could not stop laughing! Not only is Mei’s personality amazing, the dialogue is smart and witty, there are so many humorous situations as Mei attempts to follow in her parents path, and one of the most hilariously awkward scenes I have ever read in a book. It was such a joy to read. I love seeing a YA character in college. I like that we’re getting to see more YA books with a focus on college aged teens and what their experiences are like. I loved seeings Mei’s journey so much! It was such a great exploration of the responsibility to your family vs your responsibility to yourself, especially in Asian American cultures where family and respect are highly valued. I loved seeing Mei come into her own, and discovering what she wanted for herself, not just what her parents wanted for her. I also loved that she never shunned her culture because of her parent’s strictness. I loved the romance in the story. Mei and Darren were adorably sweet and made me smile all goofy. They had fantastic flirty banter and genuine care for each other. Things I Didn’t Like Mei’s mom says some body shaming things to her through the beginning of the story. They just kind of made me uncomfortable, but I appreciate their role in the story, and we get to see her thoughts evolve by the end. This was such a wonderful contemporary about finding yourself and finding happiness. And it was just so lovely. Mei had such a strong and clear voice that was a joy to read, the humor was engaging, and the characters are endearing. American Panda is truly the contemporary you need in your life. I received a copy of the book from Simon Pulse via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review