America Panda by Gloria Chao (306 pages)
Overview: Mei is starting MIT a year early, skipping senior year, pushed forward by her parents who always demanded she push herself past extremes. They've also dictated that she's at MIT to become a doctor and that she will marry Eugene. Mei doesn't know how to cope with her parents rigid views and traditions that come from their Chinese culture. She doesn't feel like she can belong anywhere due to the conflicting expectations, and she knows she must sort out her feelings if she ever wants to be happy. Overall: 4.5
Characters: 5 I loved Mei. I related to her so much. We both need glasses (and don't wear them often), have a thing with avoiding germs, and are graduating early (something I never thought I'd see in a book). Watching Mei struggle between what she wants to do and what her parents want her to do. It's amazing to see how the college experience and the people around her help her sort out her feelings and carry her through the worst of it.
Every character in this book was so real and complicated, but, aside from Mei, I have to say that her mother was my favorite character. She's an unassumingly central character with an equally quiet bond with Mei. Through watching her daughter strike out on her own, Mei's mother experiences astronomical growth of her own. She's a true example of how it's never too late to open your mind.
Plot: 5 This book was perfectly plotted to show the growth of every character in this book. It's a quietly high stakes story where, though the external stakes are high at times, the real risk is that the character doesn't show the internal growth that they need to propel themselves forward. It was fascinating to watch so many characters develop in their own way. I couldn't put the book down.
Writing: 5 I thought Chao did an amazing job with all aspects of her book. My favorite part, though, was how much care she took in fully explaining many cultural elements. With notes at the beginning and end and Mei's explanations throughout, I felt like I really was in her world, and it was an amazing cultural learning experience. I also thought she did a beautiful job discussing difficult subjects like having to choose between your own happiness and your families desires.