*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
Title: American Panda
Author: Gloria Chao
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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?
Author Q & A
A huge thanks to Gloria for taking the time to answer my questions below. She gives awesome insight into her experience writing this wonderful book and what her future books might look like. Take a look below and see!
What inspired you to bring the story of American Panda to life?
I wrote American Panda when I switched careers from dentist to writer and was having a hard time communicating with my parents. I wanted to write the book that I needed then and also the book I needed as a teen.
I hope American Panda can show readers that they aren’t alone, that it’s okay to not feel wholly one thing or another, and that cultural gaps can be difficult. I wanted to capture the struggles I went through as a teen that were difficult to explain to my friends, and I wanted to write a character that was relatable to many but also specific enough to show a window into another world. I also wanted readers to know that things can get better, as they did for me in real life.
2. What has been the most exciting aspect (so far) of publishing American Panda?
The most exciting part of this journey so far has been hearing from readers (of all ages and backgrounds) who connected with Mei and her story. These readers are the ones I wrote the book for and knowing they found each other has been a dream come true. Thank you, everyone, for all the tweets, messages, and fan art that have brought tears to my eyes! It was also so wonderful receiving starred reviews from Voya magazine, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly!
3. What does your writing space look like?
I am very spoiled and have a view of Lake Michigan.
4. What book do you have on your nightstand right now?
I don’t read in bed, but the book I’m currently reading that’s on my desk right now is Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Her writing is gorgeous and I love that she writes about secrets. My second book, which I’m currently revising, is all about family secrets and the dangers of not communicating, and it’s been fun reading Little Fires Everywhere as I edit!
5. Who are some authors who inspire you and why? Did any of these authors have an influence on you as you wrote American Panda?
J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer’s books made me fall back in love with books during dental school. As I revised American Panda, I was inspired by Amy Tan and all the amazing, brave POC Own Voices writers including but not limited to Jenny Han, Nicola Yoon, Zoraida Còrdova, Angie Thomas, Anna-Marie McLemore, Marie Lu, Adam Silvera, and Jason Reynolds. I’m also inspired by Jason Reynold’s story and how he didn’t read growing up, which I relate to. He’s amazing for what he’s accomplished, and he’s also one of the nicest authors I’ve ever met!
6. Do you have any other future writing projects in mind?
I’m currently drafting Misaligned, which will be out fall 2019 with Simon Pulse. The book follows a teen outcast who is swept up in a forbidden romance and down a rabbit hole of dark family secrets when another Asian family moves to her small, predominantly white Midwestern town. In this book, I explore race, identity, and the dangers of not communicating.
I have ideas for 2 other books that also feature Taiwanese protagonists struggling with the cultural gap, so it’s safe to say I will be exploring similar themes for a little while!
And what did I think?
I absolutely loved Chao’s book! It thought it was an intense, heart-wrenching, emotional journey of a young woman who is not only trying to discover who she is, but is also trying to navigate the strict traditions of her family and her culture. She is struggling to find her place on the vast campus of MIT–denying many of the things she loves out of her sense of loyalty and duty to her parents. When that duty becomes too much, Mei is sure that everything she’s ever known and love will come tumbling down. Her story is one of great strength and bravery. She fights for what she feels is right, even if that means going against the people who mean the absolute world to he. Chao’s writing brings Mei and her experience to life. Although my experience as a young woman is vastly different–not even comparable–to Mei’s, I felt as though I was her. I connected with her frustration and her anxiety. I understood her desire to be the perfect daughter and to work as hard as possible to be successful. Chao’s book is infused with life and realness. Her story is tangible, visceral, and so relatable. In my opinion, this is a definite must-read!