I’m truly enjoying the rise in diverse YA fiction voices. This is coming from a girl who grew up with little exposure to stories starring Asian characters. I remember getting excited when on the rare occasion a required reading in class was a short story by an Asian writer with Asian characters that I could relate to. American Panda is the latest addition to the own voices, narrative trend which I hope is here to stay.
While I went into American Panda under the false assumption that it would be a light, rom-com similar to Sandhya Menon’s When Dimple Met Rishi, so I was a bit caught off guard by the serious nature of the book especially in the beginning. Yes, there are a few moments of adorableness between Mei and her love interest, Darren Takahashi, however this comes later in the novel and is far from being the central focus. Instead, American Panda is about complicated parent-child dynamics, and the struggle to be true to yourself and your passions.
I can definitely relate to Mei’s pressure to not let her parents down while trying to stay true to what makes her happy. My own immigrant parents never pressured me or my siblings to be doctors, however they have made it clear that they want us to have a stable life without the hardships that they faced. And that’s what I loved the most about American Panda, it realistically showcases one example of how traditional Asian families act. Sure, my parents would never even threaten to disown any of us, however they do gossip and compare us to other kids while giving us backhand comments as a way to show that they care. I also found it refreshing how the family issues were not glossed over. By the novel’s conclusion the family conflicts are not all resolved in a neat and tidy way (as is the case in real life), instead progress is gradually being made from both sides. After all, people can’t just change on a whim, it takes time and considerable work in order to reach an understanding.
What’s nice about the rise in own voices trend is we are getting stories, especially geared towards a YA audience that we haven’t gotten before, I do not think I’ve ever read a story similar to American Panda and while I can’t relate to all of Mei’s experiences I know people who have had similar experiences. Furthermore, as a child of Asian immigrants, growing up as a minority among Caucasians who had younger parents with laissez-faire parenting styles, it was difficult for me to explain to others how I did not have the same freedom that was afforded to them. While it was fine for them to rebel and do as they pleased, similar to Mei in the book, growing up I couldn’t just do as I please without the massive guilt trips. Heartbreaking yet heartwarming, lovely, and well written American Panda is a perfect read to inspire and encourage Asian teens by showing them that there isn’t just one path that they must follow in life.
Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.