Review by: Ivy
“These traditions – they were about respect. Devised to mean something, like how an engagement ring symbolizes commitment and a wedding ring, love… For a family who didn’t stress affection or communication, maybe this was the only way to convey emotion.”
Mei Lu tries to act mature for her age. As a seventeen-year-old in college it’s hard enough to fit in, but with her strict Taiwanese parents watching her every move, it seems like she’ll never be able to live a life of her own.
Mei wants to teach dance, not study medicine. She has a crush on someone who isn’t Eugene Huang, the young Taiwanese doctor her mother picked out for her. Worst of all, she still talks to her brother Xing, long since disowned by their family for marrying an infertile though Taiwanese woman.
After so many years of abiding by her parent’s rules, all Mei wants is a little bit of freedom, but her mother believes that all these wishes will bring her ever closer to becoming Ying-Na, a Taiwanese cautionary tale of a girl who lives a refrigerator box, flunked out of college, and takes her clothes off for quarters all because she took one sip of alcohol and her boyfriend majored in English.
When it seems like she can’t live a lie any longer, Mei must ask herself what she truly wants: a life of carrying on old traditions, or a life of creating her own?
Nothing seemed out of place in American Panda. The book follows many tropes you can expect from a realistic fiction YA novel, (The college freshman, the forbidden romance, the overbearing parents) but they were more comforting than typical. You can see how personal the story is to Gloria Chao, which brings the book to a whole new level of authenticity and freshness.
Mei’s character was warm and relatable, a cross of Cath from Fangirl and Dimple from When Dimple Met Rishi, with an added splash of her own lovable personality. Her passion for dance is prevalent in a way you don’t normally see in young adult entertainment; she doesn’t act like she should be on Dance Moms. The way she describes movement, and the feelings that go with it, are so pure and emotional I can’t help but sympathize.
Overall, American Panda was light and fun, while in the end touching down on the important issues of growing independent becoming an individual in a world that wants to keep you contained.