I mostly read this book because of the promise of Asian-American representation. Back when I was the age for YA, there is no way that I would have found a book with an Asian-American protagonist.
In American Panda, I most appreciate that the author, Gloria Chao, works to demonstrate that there is more than one Asian-American experience. Unfortunately, it only says so much because the book is short and has just a few developed characters. Not that I have a problem with this. Chao can’t be expected to take on everything in one YA book.
The setting is MIT. I usually like when a novel’s setting is prominent, but the emphasis on MIT felt a little contrived. There are a few things that Chao (an MIT grad) clearly wanted to say about the awesomeness of MIT. I appreciated some of it, but not because it enhances the story. It is more that I could tolerate her pausing briefly to tell us an interesting fact about MIT.
The plot is predictable, which I forgave, because in YA I’m looking for comfort, not thrills. The romance is a bit boring, but refreshingly, the romance is not the main conflict of the plot. The climax felt forced to me, too much gets resolved in too short of a time. Even so, I liked the protagonist and I rooted for her.
Chao brings up a lot, but only scratches the surface. I would like to see it expanded upon. Maybe we’ll see her do that in her next book.