American Panda by Gloria ChaoAmerican Panda by Gloria Chao

American Panda

byGloria Chao

Paperback | July 2, 2019

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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.
Title:American PandaFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:336 pages, 8.25 × 5.5 × 0.8 inShipping dimensions:8.25 × 5.5 × 0.8 inPublished:July 2, 2019Publisher:Simon PulseLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1481499114

ISBN - 13:9781481499118

Appropriate for ages: 12

Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from Loved it! 4.5 stars I really, really, enjoyed this book! Moreso than I originally even thought I would. Without throwing total shade, this is the kind of story that I wanted when I read, “When Dimple Met Rishi”. However, with that novel, I was sadly disappointed. As much as the novel was diverse, I did not like some of the characteristics or actions made from the main character Dimple. When I heard about “American Panda”, I thought I may have a similar experience to “When Dimple Met Rishi” because the storylines did share some similarities. Plus, I have to say the covers do look quite similar too. This was not the case! I loved everything about “American Panda”, from the intense humour at the beginning to the incredibly emotional moments regarding family and self-discovery throughout. It was such a well rounded novel on all fronts. I cannot personally speak to the story’s cultural authenticity but from conversations that I have had with friends, these issues and topics have been an authentic representation for some of them. After reading this debut, I’m eagerly awaiting for what is to come next by Gloria Chao. Along with her creativity in writing such an incredible story, her writing was truly delectable and I sped through it with ease and enjoyment. I’m highly anticipating her next novel which is slated to be released later this year. ***Thank you to Goodreads as well as the author and publisher for supplying me with this novel via a giveaway***
Date published: 2019-04-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Very Sweet Such a wonderful story, the romance was sweet but not very deep, but then, this wasn't really a story about the romance. The story about the family's growth and change was excellent. #plumreview
Date published: 2018-07-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Cute!! Overall this book was a quick and cute read that offered an insider's perspective on a culture I knew little about.
Date published: 2018-06-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Relatable I feel like I read a different book because I didn't think this book was funny. I thought it was depressing because it just reminded me how emotionally abusive families can be. And I'm saying this as an Asian person who could either relate to Mei, or at have witnessed some of the things that went on in the book. Gloria Chao did a great job exploring all of the complexities of the characters so that the parents are perceived as three-dimensional characters, rather than some Asian stereotype.
Date published: 2018-04-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Delightful An adorable, sweet, diverse read with a Taiwanese-American protagonist. Mei's parents have expectations for her life that they've essentially planned for her. They expect her to become a doctor, marry a Taiwanese boy, have babies. It's kind of difficult since she hates germs, falls asleep in biology lectures, and has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is definitely not Taiwanese. Mei is funny and relatable. Young Asian girls will be glad to be able to read about a girl that they can relate to since the author does a good job at depicting what it's like to grow up in a Taiwanese household. The plot is quite ordinary but it's written in a fun way that keeps you wanting more.
Date published: 2018-03-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Must Read American Panda is about a young girl named Mei, who is struggling to find herself. She wants to please her family but at what cost? I found this book to be incredibly touching. Mei is a person that I would love to have in my life. She is sweet and awkward and passionate, witty, intelligent and so insightful. The author did a wonderful job in scripting her interactions with all the other characters. She was able to make you love and hate Mei's family all at the same time. I would definitely recommend this novel.
Date published: 2018-03-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from This was a cute, funny read I was really looking forward to this book, and it was a cute, funny read. It was also a tense story at times, with Mei’s desire to live her own life conflicting with what her parents want for her. Her parents want her to graduate from MIT and become a doctor, but Mei is a germaphobe and would rather dance and study math than biology. There were some heartbreaking moments as Mei’s dreams collided with her parents’ expectations and she had to weigh whether to follow her heart and risk being disowned by her parents – as her older brother Xing had – or follow the path her parents had planned for her and forego what she wanted for herself. The romance was cute, and I thought the scenes between Mei and her brother were great, but story’s pacing felt off to me at times (sometimes events were mentioned in passing after they had already happened, which was a little jarring and made me wish I had been able to read about those things taking place). But my heart went out to Mei right away, reading about her straddling two cultures at a time in life when many of us are trying to figure out who we are and what we want, and the pressure she was under was so palpable. I didn’t know how this book would end but I was hoping for a happy ending for Mei. Recommended! (Received from the publisher, for free, for review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.)
Date published: 2018-02-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Mei is a Taiwanese-American trying to make her mom happy! American Panda is a standalone Young Adult contemporary novel. The narrator is 17 year old Mei (she is Taiwanese-American). She is a freshman at MIT, where her extremely strict parents have her studying to become a doctor. I think that this book is very relevant. It shows what it is like for kids whose parents are immigrants to grow up in the US. It also gives the reader some insight into how strict parents who came from Taiwan might act. The book begins with Mei starting university at MIT (she skipped a grade, which is why she is in university and not high school). She is quite shy and quiet. She absolutely loves dancing. Her parents live fairly close by. So there are a lot of scenes with her parents in this book. IMO, there is a bit too much with her parents, especially in the first part of the book. This book is very funny. However, there is a fine line between funny and real vs too much and annoying. I think that the second half of the book had a much better balance. I found parts of the beginning to be too much. Most chapters end with voice mails from Mei's mom. And those were very funny. But for the most part I found Mei's parents to be more than I could handle. They were so overbearing. I just wish that some of the beginning parts with them had been cut. This book is about a girl's self-discovery. She is trying to figure out to have the life that she wants while still making her parents happy. If you want to know who Mei's mom reminded me of (think of Lane's mom Mrs. Kim on The Gilmore Girls - even though she was Korean). There is romance in this book. And I really enjoyed that part of the story. I also really liked everything to do with Mei's brother and all of the scenes with her roommate. Overall, this was a good Young Adult contemporary story. Mei's family may be too much for some people to handle. But I thought that the book was interesting, different, and very funny. Thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for allowing me to read this book.
Date published: 2018-02-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing Book Set in University I received an advance copy of this book from Simon & Schuster Canada in exchange for an honest review. If I'm being totally honest, I requested this book when Simon & Schuster's newsletter came around because I had heard a lot about, not because I was particularly interested in it. Contemporary is not generally my thing, and while the synopsis sounded cute, I wasn't sure it was really my thing.  But holy macaroni, I'm so glad that I requested it, because it was such a good book. There are so many fantastic things happening throughout the book, and it's amazing to finally read a book where the protagonist is in university rather than high school, even if that protagonist had skipped a year to get there ahead of time. It's a book that YA literature has definitely needed, as far as my opinion is concerned. The Good Points of American Panda: I can't talk about how the portrayal of Mei's culture was done, because I honestly didn't know much about it until reading this book. But as someone who knew little about the culture, it was presented in such a way that it made perfect sense, was so interesting, and gave just enough that it made me have to go onto Wikipedia and find out even more.  I adored Mei. She's so well developed that by the end of the book, she feels like your best friend. She's got her good qualities and bad qualities, but they all balance out in the end, and you find yourself rooting for her all the way to the final page. I loved the portrayal of university in this book. First, because it's not something that you see a lot of in YA to begin with, and second, because it felt very real, at least compared to my own first year of university. I would have loved having this book when I was in my first year. This book tackles so many things, from traditions of Mei's culture, family issues, falling in love, university, health, careers, individualism, collectivism, and everything in between. Which should have felt like a lot in a 300-page book. But it somehow worked. I honestly don't know how Chao did it, but she did it wonderfully.  The Downsides of American Panda: Because there was so much packed into this book, I felt as though I could have connected more if I'd spent some more time with each issue. It's a great book, but even the hardest moments aren't really the punch of the heart that they could be. On that same note, the whole book did feel a little rushed. There were quite a few moments where I had to stop and remember what had happened, because we'd been through 8000 other things since the last time we'd seen that particular character/situation/etc. Some of the moments in this book felt too convenient. For example, Mei meets a doctor early on that helps her realize her personal opinions on being a doctor. Which seemed a little too easy for my tastes. There are a couple of other situations like this throughout the book as well, and I kind of wanted it to not feel so set up. All in all, I enjoyed this book so much and am so excited for it to be out in the world. It's fantastic to glimpse into a different culture than my own in such an accessable and enjoyable way, and it's amazing to see a book set in university in the YA genre. If you like realistic protagonists, glimpsing into different cultures, and books that have great family dynamics, you should definitely check out American Panda!
Date published: 2018-01-30

Read from the Book

American Panda CHAPTER 1 STINKY TOFU THE STENCH OF THE RESTAURANT’S specialty walloped my senses as soon as I entered. Even with seventeen years of practice, I didn’t have a fighting chance against a dish named stinky tofu. I gagged. My mother sniffed and smiled. “Smells like home.” Mmm. Who doesn’t love the scent of athlete’s foot with lunch? I held a fist to my face, desperately inhaling the pomegranate scent of my hand sanitizer. She swatted my hand down. “Don’t touch your face, Mei. Give yourself pimples for no reason. There are no ugly women. Only lazy women.” In my head, I counted to ten in English, then Mandarin. Two more hours, three tops. Mrs. Pan, a family friend who used to drive me to Chinese school, came over to our table to say hello, which apparently required grabbing my chin to inspect my face. My instinct to be deferential (heightened by my mother’s side-eye) warred with my desire to shake off Mrs. Pan’s bacteria-covered hands. When she finished her inspection and let go, I fought the urge to cover my now-sticky chin in pomegranate antiseptic, my trusty little sidekick. “I can’t believe this is little Mei,” Mrs. Pan squeaked. “You got pretty! And look how big your nose is! That’s promising.” I pasted on a well-rehearsed smile but couldn’t keep said nose from scrunching. I like my nose just fine, thank you very much, but years of “compliments” about its large size had made me insecure. Mrs. Pan misinterpreted my embarrassment for confusion and explained, “It’s a Chinese superstition—having a big nose means you will have lots of money.” Yes, because people will pay me to see my clown nose? “Aiyah,” my mother said, using the Chinese word of exasperation that, for her, preceded every faux brag. “I do hope Mei makes money in the future, not for her sake, but mine. She just started at MIT this week, premed of course, and her tuition is driving me to an early grave. Ah, if she hadn’t skipped a grade, I would have had one more year to save up money. Sometimes I feel her intelligence is a curse.” I probably should’ve been embarrassed, but this was the only form of praise I ever heard. I replayed my mother’s words in my head, letting the undertones of pride embrace me. Then, in anticipation of the round of my-child’s-brain-is-bigger-than-your-child’s that usually followed, I held my breath. Like if I breathed too loudly, I might miss it. But Mrs. Pan went in another direction. A much worse, infinitely more embarrassing direction. “Is Mei single?” she asked my mother as if I’d disappeared. “My firstborn son, Hanwei, is the sweetest, smartest boy, and he just might be interested in Mei!” This was a first for me, probably sparked by my entrance to college, which to some Asian mothers meant releasing the hounds—husband-hunting season had begun. Never mind that I was only seventeen and had been forbidden to date until a week ago. Mrs. Pan flashed a picture, always at the ready. The corners were dog-eared from frequent trips in and out of her pocket. I smiled, but it wasn’t because I thought Hanwei was cute. I could never date the boy who once peed on my foot. Sure, we were six at the time and in a car, but to me he would always be the boy who couldn’t control his bladder. And to him I was the carsick girl who had to carry a vomit bag—aka a recycled Ziploc my mother washed out by hand after each upchuck, too stingy to dip into the mountain of new ones in the garage. God, I might need a Ziploc right now at the thought of Pee-Boy and me together. “Mei has lots of suitors,” my mother said. A lie. “Nice seeing you. Enjoy your meal.” Perceiving her matchmaking to be a bust, Mrs. Pan turned off the charm and voiced what was really on her mind. “How did you get both of your children to be doctors? Especially your firstborn, Xing. He was always so tiáopí as a child, always getting other kids, even my guai Hanwei, to do the worst things, like watch the R movies or play those violent video games.” To avoid acknowledging my brother’s existence, my mother covered her face with a menu and declared she was so hungry she could die—a common Chinese saying. Mrs. Pan hovered a minute, hoping to break through my mother’s defenses, but the situation was too awkward for even her to bear. As Mrs. Pan left, my mother leaned over and whispered, “Hanwei isn’t good enough for you, Mei. He went to Northeastern! And I heard from Mrs. Ahn who heard from Mrs. Tian—Remember Mrs. Tian? Her son went to Princeton—that after Hanwei graduated, he threw his college degree away to pursue music.” I wondered how he had pulled that off. How did he get his way when his mother dreamed of Dr. Hanwei Pan saving the world, a surgeon despite his nubbin bladder? “I bet you Hanwei’s nose is tiny—a peanut,” my mother continued. “He’s now begging for money in exchange for guitar lessons.” “You mean he’s teaching music? Like many other normal people?” “Not normal. Last resort. Soon he’ll be just like Ying-Na.” Poor Ying-Na. The Taiwanese-American cautionary tale of a girl who chose happiness over honoring her parents and was cut off financially and emotionally. Now she was the pìgu of every rumor, all created to support other parents’ warnings. Ying-Na decided to major in English and now lives in a refrigerator box. Ying-Na had an American boyfriend and he stole all her money. Ying-Na had one sip of alcohol and flunked out of college. And for my mother, Ying-Na veered off her parents’ career track and now takes off her clothes for quarters. “I’m so glad you will be a doc-tor,” my mother continued, her pride overemphasizing each syllable. “Doctors always have a job. Never have to worry. So stable, so secure. And so respectable. That’s why we’re so happy to pay your tuition.” I ducked my head in fear of her seeing the truth in my eyes—that bacteria-ridden patients made my skin crawl and biology put me to . . . zzzz. But unless I wanted to be Ying-Na 2.0, I didn’t have a choice. The waiter set down three Wet-Naps, which my mother immediately swept into her purse. Then our drinks: soy milk for my mother and a plum smoothie for my father, who was still out looking for elusive street parking. As the waiter handed me my papaya smoothie, my mother poked my breast. “These are still so small, like mosquito bites.” Due to rumors of a papaya-eating aboriginal village in China that churned out big-breasted women, my mother had been forcing mushy pink fruit down my throat since I hit puberty. Spoiler: It didn’t work. My B-cup breasts were too small for my “no-ugly-women” mother and the rest of my size-eight frame too big. She wished I was a classic Chinese beauty who would “fall over when the wind blows,” but I had missed the “skinny” gene on her side and instead inherited from my dad, whose college nickname was Lu Pàng, or Fat Lu. I preferred not to look like a chopstick with two cantaloupes for breasts, but I was in the minority. As if on cue, my mother’s inspection traveled to my waist, which she pinched. “You’re getting fat. Have you been exercising?” It had to be a trap. If I admitted how much time I’d spent sneaking away to dance classes, she’d scold me for (1) not studying enough and (2) “throwing away” good money. I pressed my lips into a hard line, choosing silence. It’s because she loves you, I reminded myself. Right before they disowned my brother, they had stopped criticizing his negative attitude, his laziness, his weight. . . . It had been the last step before cutting him out. Reprimands meant they still cared . . . right? “You need to be careful, Mei. No man wants a panda—lazy, round, and silly. All yuán gun gun.” “Pandas are cute.” “Do you think the concubines won the emperor’s attention by being cute? Be a cat. They know how to sajiao and get the man’s attention. They’re nián rén without being clingy—the perfect rice. Not too sticky, not too independent.” “Apt example, Mamá. People declaw cats, essentially cutting off their ‘fingers,’ and our ancestors used to break women’s feet to bind them into three-inch monstrosities. Except that was to keep them from running away.” I just couldn’t help it. She slapped the air with her open palm. “So disrespectful! How will you ever get a man?” She cleared her throat. “Actually, I have this friend—remember Mrs. Huang? Her son is interested in meeting you. Eugene is Taiwanese, a senior at Harvard, and will be a good husband. He’s applying to medical schools now.” She began pawing at my blunt bangs as if she were Edward Scissorhands. “We’ll have to clean up this mess before you meet him. Really, Mei, why you insist on having these? Just to give me a heart attack?” I had gotten bangs to hide the off-center mole on my forehead. The one that was so close to smack-dab-in-the-middle that my mother’s Buddhist friends were always commenting on how I had just missed out on it being in the center. Too bad, so unlucky, because that would have made it less embarrassing. After the hundredth friend had touched the mole without permission, leaving it sticky and violated, I had taken matters (and the scissors) into my own hands. And I haven’t looked back, not even when my mother said, Why you want the hairstyle of Japanese schoolchildren? I batted her hand away, then scooted my chair farther for good measure. “Yeah, Mamá, I can’t wait to meet this guy who needs his mom to get a girlfriend.” “Wonderful! We’ll set up a date for next week!” Sarcasm didn’t translate. “I was joking, Mamá.” She accompanied her signature tongue cluck with her signature phrase. “I’m your muqin,” she declared, using the formal, distant version of “mother” that implied authority. This was becoming a pain in my pìgu. I tried to shut it down. “According to you, no boys were allowed in high school. And I’m only seventeen; I should be a high school senior.” “But you’re not. College is the best time to find a husband. American girls peak in junior high, high school with looks, but you will peak now. You hated that you got your period so much later than the other girls”—I covered my face to hide from any patrons who might have overheard—“but like I told you then, it’s a good thing. All my older friends with mean-o-pause—they look okay one day, then wrinkly the next. Like those suanméi your babá loves.” She shuddered, probably from picturing faces on my dad’s prunes like I was. Then she straightened her spine. “I still have my period,” she said in a tone that others would reserve for I just got a promotion. “And you’ll have yours many, many years after your peers sag. It’s genetics.” Well, we rough-roaded it, but we managed to turn off course, away from preapproved Ivy League husbands. I just wish it didn’t have to involve my period. Or hers. “Wait, what was I saying?” Guess I spoke too soon. “Oh right. Mei, take advantage of your youth while you can. And I chose Eugene precisely because you’re still so young. He is a good boy. Won’t try anything. Other boys will try to trick you into having the sex, and you’re too young to know how to handle that. As your muqin, I’m going to tell you the truth. It doesn’t feel good for women. It’s only to make babies, which you are not ready for quite yet. But soon. With Eugene.” Since I was about to toss my fortune cookies, I played my trump card. “Maybe we’ll see what Babá has to say about this when he gets here.” Her mouth snapped shut, knowing my father, who still saw me as a five-year-old, would fly into a chopstick-throwing rage at the thought of me dating. She excused herself to the bathroom, most likely to touch up her makeup. Clarification: to powder and reapply mascara; her eyeliner and lipstick were tattooed on. My ears perked up at the sound of English amid the sea of Mandarin. Across the restaurant, a group of students was leaving their table. A familiar face. Well, a familiar outline of hair—he was still too far away to be more than a blurry shape. Because of my nearsightedness and my mother’s tenet that “no woman is attractive in glasses,” I recognized people by silhouette and motion. At orientation, his head had bobbed above the sea of freshmen, and I had been attracted to his spiky anime hair. It had taken me half an hour to work up the courage to smile at him, but he’d been too busy laughing with the perky blonde beside him to notice shy, not-blond me. My heart had lurched, and then I had traveled back in time to first grade. Wooden desk. Chalkboard overhead. And six-year-old me looking from one classmate to another, wishing I didn’t look so different. Oh God, I was totally staring. Probably because I could see him clearer now that he was only a few yards away, and, well, I’m just happy I didn’t drool. His face was all sharp angles and smooth skin, and he was that kind of lean muscular build—you know, nerd hot. Exactly my kind of poison. His eyes caught mine, then shifted down to my MIT shirt. While I was deer-in-headlights frozen at having been caught gawking, he said something to his friends (never had I wanted superhearing so bad), then weaved between chairs to my corner (!!!). I popped a hip-level wave, then regretted it immediately. He slid into the seat across from me, his knees bumping the table. “You look familiar. Did we meet at orientation?” “No, but I’m Mei.” I stuck a sweaty palm out. He took it and didn’t say ew. “Darren. Nice to meet you. Are you a fan of Chow Chow? I’ve never had Taiwanese food before.” “Did you like it?” When his head bobbed up and down emphatically, I smiled, excited to have one more person in on the secret. There weren’t enough Taiwanese restaurants on this side of the world, and braised pork rice and oyster pancakes were much too delicious to be so scarce. “It was amazing”—the right side of his lip quirked up—“although that stinky tofu smell does take some getting used to. Sorry if you’re a fan.” I shook my head. “Never tried it. I’ve already gotten enough of a taste through my nose. You know, smelling is a large part of tasting, so in a way, we’ve all ‘tasted’ dog poop and garbage.” What a charmer. Maybe Hanwei was my soul mate after all. But Darren wasn’t ruffled by my unladylike words. “Well, stinky tofu isn’t that far off, but I’m way more likely to try that than poop. In fact, I’m kind of curious about it—like, I want to try it because it smells so bad but it’s still food. Funny how that works, you know?” He raised an eyebrow. “You’ve never been tempted? Not even one bite?” “Ehhh, I’m good. I learned early not to trust my parents’ food preferences. Because of them, child-me thought stinky tofu was normal and Chili’s was the culinary master that invented fettuccine Alfredo.” I’d never admitted this to anyone before—it was too embarrassing—but instead of pity or judgment, there was . . . something else . . . on his face. Empathy? Dare I say, interest? “You must’ve been a cute little kid,” he said. I expected him to be embarrassed by his words, but he was leaning back in his chair, a small smile on his lips, completely comfortable. I wished I could be that self-assured, but since I was just me—not comfortable and completely awkward—I continued rambling. “Not according to my mother. I always talked with my mouth full, spoke when I shouldn’t, and said rude things.” I wondered if stinky tofu would taste better than my foot tasted right about now. He shrugged. “Honesty is sometimes misconstrued as rudeness, which is probably why it’s so rare.” Suddenly he snapped, then pointed a finger at me. “That’s where I know you from! You were the one who came to that girl’s defense at orientation.” Aiyah. How much had he heard? Even though I knew exactly which girl he was talking about, I furrowed my eyebrows at him as if I didn’t. Like I saved people daily. “When the international student didn’t get that joke,” he clarified. “How MIT is like sex without a condom; you’re glad you got in but—” “—sorry you came,” we said in unison. Darren finished recounting, and I breathed a sigh of relief. After I had chastised everyone for laughing at her—which had been a spur-of-the-moment decision fueled by my own experiences as the pìgu of the joke—I had told the girl, in an attempt to make her feel less alone, about that time in elementary school when I had brought my stuffed goat, Horny, to show-and-tell. Darren leaned closer as he said, “I thought it was really nice of you to stand up for her.” “Thanks.” I brought my eyes up to meet his and tried not to be too obvious about sneaking a deeper whiff of his scent. It was fresh, like spring, with a sprinkling of that distinct guy smell (the good kind). He ticked his chin up at the plum smoothie and soy milk beside me. “Meeting some friends?” “Sort of.” ?I coughed into my fist. I couldn’t lie now after his comment about honesty. I coughed again. “My parents.” I shrugged, like I was so cool I was totally down hanging with them. “Are they still in town from moving you in?” I shook my head. “They live close by, in the suburbs.” “I wish my parents were closer. They’re in Southern California. Orange County.” Instead of trying to make sense of the confusing mix of envy and sympathy fomented by his words, I simply nodded. My mother exited the bathroom, her makeup the same as before, as far as I could tell. Ten rapid steps brought her to the table, and she stuck a hand out with a polite, “Hello, I’m Mrs. Lu.” “Nice to meet you. I’m Darren.” “Darren . . . ?” She waved her hand in a circle. “Takahashi.” Her lips pursed to the side, then returned to a demure smile as she stepped to the left to clear him an exit path. “Nice to meet you. Have a great day.” If he was bothered by the send-off, he didn’t let it show. I, for the record, was very much bothered but also knew it could have been worse. My mother not asking for his SAT scores or views on divorce was an improvement over her past record. “Mei, it was a pleasure meeting you. I hope I see you around campus.” He winked, making me freeze. I managed another hip-level wave before he was out of sight. My mother folded herself into the seat and placed her hands on the table, one over the other. My radar pinged—I was going to hate the next ten minutes. “He’s Japanese, Mei.” “And?” “They murdered our family. Orphaned my mother.” Her voice caught as it always did whenever she spoke of the war. “He didn’t kill them. Please, don’t make a thing of this. He saw my MIT shirt and came over to introduce himself. He probably won’t remember me in a week.” I hoped that last part was a lie. My mother raised an eyebrow. “I saw how he was looking at you. You know the rules. No Japanese boys.” Or white, black, or Hispanic. Only Taiwanese, and a doctor to boot. I had been so excited about finally being allowed to date that I had overlooked the restrictions. Until now. “I already found your husband, Mei. Eugene Huang. Dr. Eugene Huang. Búyào tuo kùzi fàngpì”—that is, Don’t take your pants off to fart, the Chinese idiom my family used for, Don’t waste your time doing something extraneous. In this case, dating. “Oh my God, Mamá.” I dropped my head in my hands, the flush from my cheeks warming my palms. My mother fetched the dreaded comb from her purse. It looked like a normal, innocent comb, but I knew it was made from a dead cow’s foot. “Do you have a headache? Come here. Let me gua yi gua your neck.” The cuteness of the Chinese phrase is deceiving—it means to scrape away, as in skin and blood, not toxins as the ancient healers once believed (and my mother still believes). I shuddered thinking about her sanding my neck until it looked like I had measles. I did, in fact, have a bit of a headache, as any seventeen-year-old would upon hearing that her mother had already picked out her future husband. But I wasn’t letting that bacteria-covered hoof near me. I knew from experience not to fight this one with logic, which only instigated tongue clicks and guilt, my mother’s number one weapon. You dishonor your ancestors. Our medicine has been around longer. How can you, a future doctor, not understand that the practice of guasha lets out bad energy? Instead, I pasted a smile on my face and lied. “I feel great. Don’t bother with the cow’s hoof. Búyào tuo kùzi fàngpì, right?” My mother smiled and the tension waned. Nothing like using her own wisdom to lighten the mood. Sometimes I just had to whip out my Mandarin. I pulled another trick out of my xiùzi. “I saw on Facebook that Amberly Ahn has a new boyfriend.” My mother bit the hook. Gossiping was harder for her to turn down than a soup dumpling is for me. “Ah, thank goodness.” As she chatted on and on about all the horrible things Amberly and her mother have done—Mrs. Ahn betrayed me, wanting Eugene for Amberly. Hunh! As if Mrs. Huang would want Amberly’s tiny hips instead of your child-bearing form—I felt a (very odd) sense of security wrap around me, a blanket of comfort. Even though some—okay, most—of the things she was saying were gross, even though I didn’t really want to meet Eugene, there was some kind of twisted pride in there. And Chow Chow was my second home, my Taiwanese home away from my Taiwanese home. I knew its calligraphy wallpaper and ceiling lanterns as well as the plastic wrap covering my parents’ furniture. My father strolled in and sat sans words. Upon his arrival, the waiter brought over our favorite appetizer: “open-mouth” dumplings with steam pouring out the sides. Fitting, since I was sitting with my mouth open and some drool spilling out. My mother clucked her tongue at me and my jaw snapped shut. As I was about to dig in, my father cleared his throat—a thundering noise that always made me sit up straight and lower my eyes. “Mei, a few words.” He paused for effect. “MIT is your first step to a good life. Work hard, get good grades, get into a good medical school, and make us proud. Don’t worry, we will be watching every step of the way. We will see you here, at Chow Chow, every Saturday, to check in.” A decree, not a request. My mother gave me the eyeball, and I knew she was telecommunicating, You also need to marry Dr. Eugene Huang and pump out a litter of Taiwanese babies. I wanted to enjoy my newfound freedom and cut the umbilical cord, but with these words I realized it would never be severed, only stretched. When my parents raised their soy milk and plum smoothie in the air, I needed a moment before I could lift my pink mush in return.

Editorial Reviews

Seventeen Magazine’s Best YA Novels of 2018 Bustle’s Best YA Book of 2018 PopSugar‘s Most Riveting YA Book of 2018 A Chicago Public Library Best YA Book of 2018 A Paste Magazine Best YA Book of 2018 Booklist’s Best Debut YA Book of 2018 A Junior Library Guild Selection YMCA’s Summer Reading List for Teens “Weepingly funny.” —The Wall Street Journal “Delightful.” —Buzzfeed “Vibrant and bright.” —Bustle “Beautifully told.” —Hypable “A soulful and hilarious debut.” —Booklist, starred review “Effervescent.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review “Universal.” —School Library Journal, starred review “This deserves a place on every shelf, though it will not stay there long.” —VOYA, starred review “Eye-opening, hilarious, and sometimes heartbreaking.” —Shelf Awareness “An earnest, funny, and emotional story.” —Book Riot “American Panda is an absolute delight; an insightful, incisive, and often hilarious story of one girl's struggle to balance her family's expectations against her own secret ambitions. Overflowing with wit and empathy, Chao's debut charmed my socks off.” —David Arnold, New York Times bestselling author of Kids of Appetite and Mosquitoland “A charming and hilarious tale of a precocious Taiwanese American walking the tightrope of family expectations...in ice skates. Mei Lu is a goofy, lovable American teenager. I loved her.” —Stacey Lee, award-winning author of Outrun the Moon "Incredibly timely, honest, and moving—the must-read book of the season!" —Sandhya Menon, New York Times bestselling author of When Dimple Met Rishi  “A dazzling debut that hooked me with its humor and heart from the very first page.” —Lisa Maxwell, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Magician “The perfect coming of age story for anyone who's ever felt unsure of where they belong. —Kerri Maniscalco, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Stalking Jack the Ripper