If you were born a first-generation child of an immigrant, then this story will resonate so much in your heart that it might break.
Here’s what it’s about
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?
My parents told me the rules of the house very often: focus on your studying and get into a good school. I didn’t know until I was in high school that meant getting As in every class and getting into an IVY league and becoming a doctor. Or a lawyer.
When I was in high school, my mom thought it would be good for my budding medical career if I got into this seven-year program for pre-med students. Seven years and you’ll be a fully fledged surgeon making incisions into actual human bodies. At that time, I felt like this was my only choice and so I went with it even though I was terrible at science and math and only wanted to read and write. I even had to take Physics in my junior year when at that point it wasn’t a requirement anymore. I voluntarily took Physics!
It was also in my junior year that I finally told my mom that I didn’t want to be a doctor and I wanted to be a journalist. We had a long heart-to-heart conversation and she went with it. I don’t know how much she felt about that decision, but it made me so happy.
That’s basically what’s going on in American Panda.
While reading this book, I could feel the anxiety and frustration Mei felt because it was the feelings I had as a kid too. My parents were strict and my mom knew if my sister and I didn’t practice piano and violin. When I got a bad score on a test, it was a big mess and I won’t recount those stories for you.
I think the only thing I didn’t like about this book was how extreme Mei’s parents were. The author’s note does say that this story was based on the experiences she’s had as well as the ones her friends had. I don’t know anyone’s parents who see their kid diverge from the medical route get completely disowned without a hope that things will get better. It just doesn’t seem real? I don’t want to discount it, but at the same time it seemed a little harsh.
But what Mei went through is real. Her feelings, her longing, her inability to speak up about it is all experiences I had. I wanted my friends to read this and say to them that this is what it was like growing up for me. I also resonated so much with the split between her Chinese culture and her American culture. I have this feeling that immigrants come to this country and think that they can maintain the values and traditions of the old country.
However, this is a new country with different rules. If you have a kid born and raised in the new country, they won’t know what the old country is. I didn’t go to Korea until I was in my 30s and I didn’t feel in any way that I belonged there.
You won’t find sophisticated language and this book isn’t meant to be literary. While this book resonated so much with me, it’s still a book written for younger people. I honestly wish this book existed when I was a kid and let me know that it’s okay to follow my dreams and while it may be rocky at first, your parents will eventually come around.
- Hardcover: 311 pages
- Publisher: Simon Pulse (February 6, 2018)
- Rating: 3/5 stars