A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Chinese and Taiwanese culture, traditions, and history. Mandarin words and phrases are sprinkled throughout, but there isn't a glossary to define them. Also plenty of science and math concepts mentioned.
It's important to respect your family and your culture, but equally important to establish your independence and clearly communicate your values. Find the courage to do what makes you happy.
Positive Role Models
Although Mei lies to her family, she eventually finds the courage to pursue her passions and always stands up for the underdog. She and her brother, Xing, express their issues regarding outdated cultural traditions. Mei's love interest Darren's kindness and acceptance helps Mei feel like a normal teen instead of an outcast. Although there are many rumors about Ying-Na, she shows Mei that you can still be successful if you don't follow your parents' life plan. Mei's mother begins to understand Mei's point of view, supports her daughter even though it goes against her husband's wishes.
Violence & Scariness
Family arguments lead to parents disowning their children and claiming that their disobedience killed their grandma.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Mei's mom constantly warns her not to do "the sex" before marriage. College students kiss. There are mentions of birth control pills and chlamydia, and a rumor about a girl becoming a stripper and "giving head" to support herself.
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Variations of "s--t," "f--k," "bitch," and "hell."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Mei's dad smokes, and there's a rumor about a girl dealing heroin.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Chao's American Panda is about Mei Lu, a 17-year-old Taiwanese American freshman at MIT whose parents want her to become a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer. Chinese and Taiwanese culture play a large part in Mei's coming-of-age story, and there are Mandarin words and phrases sprinkled throughout the book. Strong language includes variations of "s--t," "f--k," "bitch," and "hell." Mei's mom constantly reminds her not to do "the sex" before marriage. College students get STDs, and there's a rumor about a girl becoming a stripper and "giving head" to support herself. Mei's dad is a smoker, and there's a rumor about a girl dealing heroin. Although Mei lies to her family throughout the book, her story has plenty of positive messages for teens about communication and courage.
Is It Any Good?
The emotional mother-daughter relationship, sweet interracial romance, and vivid college setting make this hilarious coming-of-age tale a must-read for teens. Mei's awkwardness plus her fear of germs and her mom's overprotective voicemails provide plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Some of the Mandarin words can be confusing, but you don't need to be Asian or a child of an immigrant to relate to American Panda. It's clear Mei has a deep respect for her family and culture, but her longing for independence is equally strong. Readers will root for her as she figures out a way to embrace both cultures while staying true to herself.
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Our Editors Recommend
Books with Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander Characters
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