American Panda – written by Gloria Chao

      American Panda – written by Gloria Chao, Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, 9781481499101, 2018

Format: ARC

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review4

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

What did you like about the book Mei is an American panda: cute, clumsy, and a little round.  Her mother wants what’s best for her daughter and so pushes her to become a (declawed) cat: fierce and silent.  But as Mei heads to college, her eyes are opened to more and more possibilities.  But following her own dreams comes at a steep price that could cost her family.

Chao’s debut novel has many fun and bouncy moments as Mei negotiates her way through her first year of college including biology classes that put her to sleep and handsome boys that make her heart flutter with a wonderfully humorous commentary.  While this is a laugh-out-loud adventure, the story doesn’t shy away from earnest portrayals of Mei’s cultural or generational clashes.  Mei’s character is written to make the reader love her and accomplishes it splendidly; her strength is apparent even as she fumbles her way through things and her narration remains honest throughout the story.

This is a well-balanced coming-of-age story that allows its protagonist to explore the many aspects of life and independence.

Anything you didn’t like about it?  The book occasionally struggles with pacing, lingering too long on some scenes and then speeding through weeks at a time with a single sentence.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Teens looking for a light-hearted novel will love Mei and her journey.  The narration is very animated, reminiscent of Lee’s style in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue;” teens who enjoyed Monty’s high-spirited voice will love Chao’s style.  Those who are seeking more quirky college experiences, such as in Menon’s “When Dimple Met Rishi” or Rowell’s “Fangirl,” will look forward to picking this up.

Who should buy this book? Teen library collections (public and school)

Where would you shelve it ? YA fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes!  If you enjoyed any of the above mentioned novels, this is a great next read that will leave you laughing (and maybe crying, too).

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Melissa McCleary, Pembroke Public Library, Pembroke, MA

Date of review: January 8, 2018

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