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?
From debut author Gloria Chao comes a hilarious, heartfelt tale of how unlike the panda, life isn’t always so black and white.
Buy it – Amazon
I loved this book.
Every bit of it.
Yes, I still have a bit of a negative critique, but I realize that a lot of them are more of cultural focused issues.
Growing up, a lot of the students I went to school with were first generation immigrants. So, a lot of the issues she had alluded to, I’d heard about. Especially in an area as diverse as California. Despite the cultural difference between the protagonist, Mai, and I, I still connected with her.
When I first began college, I felt like an outsider because of where I was from, and my skin color. It actually has taken me a while to feel welcomed into this space. There were a few scenes that really stuck out to me. Mai’s roommate situation, and a scene way in the beginning where she interacts with other students in their main room. I have experienced the same micro-agressions, most of them were from white peers who felt comfort in asking invasive questions. I do wish there were more scenes exploring this, but I do realize that this story was…not exactly about that! And that’s okay.
“I forced my gaze to meet the rest of theirs as I explained, ‘I don’t watch many movies.’ Only a few, snuck in during the rare moments my parents were out of the house…Tiny acts of rebellion, one mostly to try to prevent incidents like these.
The Caucasian boy across from me nodded along. ‘Were you sheltered because of your Asian upbringing?’
I squirmed, not liking where this was going. He was completely right, and it seemed he was trying to understand, but something felt off. I shrugged.
‘Did your parents, like, make you play an instrument? And you had to go to Harvard or MIT? Practice SATs every weekend? My ex was Korean. We had to date in secret.’ He looked down his nose at the rest of us, as if his past made him cool.”
I did not go to public schools in white areas and college was the first time (besides the worlds I visited within books) I was exposed to huge amounts of white people. I lived in a diverse blackhole, and when I left it, I realized just how white the world is. Culturally speaking, when I met my first few roommates, we clashed.
Something that also stood out to me, was Mai not fully letting her culture fade away. Even when she was at odds with it, she embraced who she was. Little things she learned when she was younger, and phrases her mother said, hankered in the back of her mind. I especially loved the sections when she incorporated her Taiwanese background into her dancing. Mai loved where she came from, but not the strictness of it. Her relationship with her parents was also extremely realistic. Mai was only seventeen. There is NO way a seventeen year old would be able to easily throw away the opinions of her parents and her past.
I mean, it took me nearly 22 years.
Another aspect of Mai’s college experience that rang true to me, was the friend situation. In media, the college experience is a farce. People pop up randomly with a large group of friends on their first day, and that group does not change within the four years.
I mean I guess.
It didn’t always work like that though.
For a teen in college, I loved how independent she was. I loved that she didn’t sit in her room, and mope in her sadness. (like me *cough*) Instead, she pushed it into a creative endeavor.
While there was a whole bunch of good, I still had a few problems.
- There was a quick quote in the beginning, when Mai describes the kind of man she is not allowed to date. This small part, was way at the beginning of the story, but it stuck in the back of my mind the entire time I read.
“My mother raised an eyebrow. ‘I saw how he was looking at you. You know the rules. No Japanese boys.’
Or white, black or hispanic…I had been so excited about finally being allowed to date that I had overlooked the restrictions.”
Whenever her mother critiqued anyone, I wondered how she would have acted if she saw someone black. I remembered the small Asian women who left elevators when we were alone together, and the Korean man who owned the beauty supply I went to. We knew each other by face and name, I spent so much money there…and he still followed me around the store. Maybe I’m generalizing, but uh….
It all made me wonder….Initially Mai’s mother was against her dating anyone who was not also Taiwanese. Later, she (kinda) got over it when she met Mai’s Japanese boyfriend. How would her mother have reacted if her boyfriend was black? For some reason, I feel like it wouldn’t have gone well. Her mother was a racist. Maybe that’s a strong word. um…
But her mother was definitely anti-black. And…I couldn’t get over it. I know that’s kinda reality, and I have personally dealt with older Asian women who are racist.
But I don’t think it’s something I have to be comfortable with? It’s great to recognize and understand racism, but I can still be put off by it?
Mai clearly did not agree with most of her mom’s thoughts and ideas. But the thing is, I acknowledge and call out my mother consistently when I hear her being problematic. I JUST….
- THE BROTHER.
Mai’s brother defied their parent’s cultural wants, and in reaction, their parents deaded him.
He literally did not exist in their household.
My question is, Why did her mother cave so quickly for Mai? Especaially when there is such a big deal mad about him being the first, and only, born son. Then when the time comes for them to make amends? They ignore him even more? Made no sense.
I both liked and disliked how the story ended. her father not backing down was realistic. Mai’s mother breaking down and talking to her was also realistic.
I LOVED IT And I hate ending reviews.
Thanks for reading!