American Panda
Goodreads ratings
3.81 / 5

"American Panda" Summary

By Gloria Chao

young adult | 311 pages | Published in 2018

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?


Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

A Taiwanese-American college freshman struggles to navigate her strict parents' expectations while pursuing her own dreams.


In "American Panda" by Gloria Chao, readers are taken on a journey through the life of Mei Lu, a Taiwanese-American teenager, as she navigates the complexities of family, cultural expectations, and her own desires. This coming-of-age novel explores themes of identity, tradition, love, and the struggle to find one's own path in the face of societal and familial pressures.

Brief Synopsis

The story is set in Boston, where Mei Lu, an overachieving seventeen-year-old, steps foot on the campus of MIT with the intention of becoming a doctor, just like her parents. However, Mei's dreams clash with her true passions - dance and a budding relationship with Darren, a Japanese-American classmate.

Mei's traditional Taiwanese parents have high expectations for her, including marrying a suitable Taiwanese boy and maintaining their cultural traditions. Mei's fraternal twin brother, Xing, has already been disowned by their parents for dating a non-Taiwanese girl, and Mei fears falling into the same fate.

As Mei grapples with her identity and her desire to please her parents while staying true to herself, she finds solace in her friendship with Nicolette, a quirky girl who helps Mei navigate the challenges of college life and cultural expectations.

Main Characters

Character NameDescription
Mei LuProtagonist and narrator of the story. A talented dancer who aspires to follow her dreams but is torn by her family's expectations.
Darren TakahashiMei's love interest and a Japanese-American classmate who challenges her to explore her own desires and passions.
Xing LuMei's twin brother, who has been disowned by their parents for dating a non-Taiwanese girl. His actions serve as a constant reminder of the consequences Mei could face.
Mrs. LuMei's overbearing and traditional Taiwanese mother who places immense pressure on Mei to conform to cultural expectations.
Mr. LuMei's father, a doctor who wants Mei to follow in his footsteps and become a physician.

Summary of Different Story Points

Chapters 1-5: Introduction and Cultural Conflicts

  • Mei starts her first semester at MIT and meets Darren, who ignites her passion for dance.
  • Mei struggles with her mother's expectations and the pressure to become a doctor.
  • Mei reconnects with her estranged brother, Xing, and worries about their relationship.

Chapters 6-10: Forbidden Love and Secrets

  • Mei and Darren's relationship deepens, but they must hide it from their families.
  • Mei discovers that Darren has a secret that could jeopardize their relationship.
  • Mei's friendship with Nicolette grows as they support each other through their struggles.

Chapters 11-15: Tradition and Rebellion

  • Mei attends a family wedding and becomes conflicted about her own future.
  • Mei's parents find out about her relationship with Darren, leading to tension and arguments.
  • Mei rebels against her parents' expectations and expresses her desire to pursue dance.

Chapters 16-20: Finding Balance and Self-Acceptance

  • Mei confronts her parents about her dreams and desires, leading to a better understanding between them.
  • Mei's father helps her reconcile her passion for dance with her academic pursuits.
  • Mei and Darren navigate their relationship while dealing with their own insecurities and fears.

Main Events

  1. Mei's enrollment at MIT and her introduction to Darren and Nicolette.
  2. Mei's secret relationship with Darren and the challenges they face.
  3. Mei's reunion with her estranged brother, Xing, and the consequences he faces for dating outside their culture.
  4. Mei's struggle to balance her cultural expectations with her own desires and dreams.
  5. Mei's confrontation with her parents and their eventual acceptance of her choices.

Themes and Insights

  1. Identity and Cultural Conflicts: The novel explores the tension between Mei's Taiwanese heritage and her American identity, highlighting the challenges of navigating cultural expectations while staying true to oneself.
  2. Family Expectations and Individual Dreams: Mei grapples with the pressure to fulfill her parents' expectations while pursuing her own passions and desires. The novel examines the conflict between family obligations and personal aspirations.
  3. Love and Forbidden Relationships: Mei's relationship with Darren challenges societal and cultural norms, forcing her to confront the consequences and sacrifices that come with pursuing love outside of her culture.
  4. Self-Discovery and Acceptance: Through her journey, Mei learns to embrace her own dreams and desires, despite the fear of disappointing her family. The novel explores the importance of self-acceptance and staying true to one's passions.

Reader's Takeaway

"American Panda" offers readers a poignant and relatable coming-of-age story that delves into themes of cultural identity, family expectations, love, and self-discovery. It invites readers to reflect on their own experiences of balancing tradition and personal dreams, ultimately leaving them inspired to embrace their own path and identity.


Gloria Chao's "American Panda" is a compelling and heartfelt novel that explores the complexities of cultural identity, family expectations, and the pursuit of personal dreams. Through Mei's journey, readers are taken on an emotional rollercoaster that encourages self-reflection and inspires them to embrace their own path in life. Chao's writing skillfully captures the challenges faced by young individuals torn between tradition and personal desires, ultimately delivering a powerful and relatable story.

American Panda FAQ

  1. What is 'American Panda' about?

    American Panda is a young adult novel that follows the story of Mei, a Taiwanese-American teenager who is torn between her parents' traditional expectations and her own desires.

  2. Who is the author of 'American Panda'?

    The author of 'American Panda' is Gloria Chao.

  3. Is 'American Panda' part of a series?

    'American Panda' is a standalone novel and is not part of a series.

  4. What genre is 'American Panda'?

    'American Panda' is a contemporary young adult novel.

  5. Where is 'American Panda' set?

    'American Panda' is set in the United States, primarily in Boston.

  6. Is 'American Panda' suitable for all age groups?

    'American Panda' is recommended for readers aged 14 and above.

  7. Are there any trigger warnings for 'American Panda'?

    Some themes in 'American Panda' include parental pressure, cultural expectations, and discussions of OCD. Please be aware of these themes if they may be triggering for you.

  8. What is the page count of 'American Panda'?

    'American Panda' has a page count of approximately 311 pages.

  9. Is 'American Panda' available in e-book format?

    Yes, 'American Panda' is available in e-book format for Kindle and other e-readers.

  10. Where can I purchase 'American Panda'?

    'American Panda' can be purchased online through major retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Book Depository. It is also available in select brick-and-mortar bookstores.