Tag Archives: simon & schuster ca

ARC Review – American Panda by Gloria Chao

Title: American Panda

Author: Gloria Chao

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: 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?

Huge thank you to Simon Teen Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

American Panda has a misleading cover. From first glance, it seems like this book would be a cute, fluffy read — and it is in parts. This book also at times takes a bit of a darker tone, which is rather unexpected. Even with that tonal shift at times, I happily want to recommend this book.

This book follows the story of Mei, a Taiwanese-American girl who has very strict parents. Her family wants her to be a doctor, marry someone who is Taiwanese and also aspiring to a similar career. Under no circumstances is Mei allowed to date someone who is not Taiwanese or approved by her parents. In fact, her parents already have Mei’s life plotted out for her.

This was such a difficult read for me at times as I found myself sympathizing with Mei a lot. I recognize that I am not Asian and have never had this experience, but I was a former ESL teacher whose main clientele were all Asian, and on numerous occasions I would have conversations with my students about their home lives and parent’s expectations. It broke my heart a lot of the time given many of the teens I dealt with just wanted to be understood by their parents, and you definitely see that here with Mei. She wants her parents approval, but she still also wants to be her own individual with her own choices being made. There is a huge tug-and-pull between following traditions and choosing your path in this story, and it makes for an interesting story, if one I’ve heard many times before.

Some of my favourite parts of this book were Mei’s interactions with her disowned brother, Xing. Xing and Mei’s re-connection is one of the strongest parts of this story as it gives you a lot of insight into just how important certain traditions to older generations. Being Italian, I oddly can understand this given many Italian parents only want their children to marry other Italians. I really just loved how close the siblings became given the circumstances involving Xing’s becoming disgraced.

One area where this book didn’t quite work for me was some of the humour. I found it to be pretty hit-or-miss, and oddly found myself loving the book more when it was about the family relationships and less about Mei’s interest in Darren (though I’ll admit, they were very cute!). I really felt for Mei’s mother in the story, regardless of how overbearing she was.

American Panda is a story I’ve read before, but one I still very much enjoyed. I found Mei’s perspective very informative and her feelings were completely worn on her sleeve. She’s a girl I definitely found myself connecting with even though our circumstances are so different. Don’t let this fluffy, cheerful cover fool you — Gloria Chao doesn’t shy away from punching the reader in the feelings.

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ARC Review – Under Their Skin (Under Their Skin #1) by Margaret Peterson Haddix

25785792Title:  Under Their Skin (Under Their Skin #1)

Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Nick and Eryn’s mom is getting remarried, and the twelve-year-old twins are skeptical when she tells them their lives won’t change much. Well, yes, they will have to move. And they will have a new stepfather, stepbrother, and stepsister. But Mom tells them not to worry. They won’t ever have to meet their stepsiblings. This news puzzles Nick and Eryn, so the twins set out on a mission to find out who these kids are – and why they’re being kept hidden.

Huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Margaret Peterson Haddix is a house hold name at the public library I work at. Her books are always circulating, and the middle grade students whom I work with on a constant basis sing her praises. They always tell me her books are “full of action!” or “full of mystery!” This is my first read by this author, and I definitely can agree with the responses towards her work: she writes an intriguing mystery.

Under Their Skin opens with a very interesting situation. Twins, Eryn and Nick find out their mother is getting remarried and that their new stepfather has children. When Eryn and Nick inquire about their new step-siblings, their mother tends to freeze up, panic, or just stoutly tell them not to ask about them (which makes you wonder why she’d mention it in the first place if it was such a big deal). Turns out, the world isn’t what Eryn and Nick thought, and that their mother has more to hide than meets the eye. It’s a great premise, and definitely one that stays on an engaging note.

For the most part, I liked this novel. I found the mystery kind of predictable, and I always hate when I can call a plot twist. What I didn’t call in terms of the plot was the direct in which Haddix was taking it, and for that I really applaud her efforts because it was pretty nifty, and her interpretation of humanity and what it means to be human is pretty complex given this is a middle grade novel. I did admittedly have a bit of trouble with the writing style — it was a bit too simplistic and direct for my taste, though I understand why this might be and recognize it’s more for a middle grade audience than me. I appreciated the lengths the author went to provide a convincing tragedy for humanity in this story, though I found the rational a lot of the “adults” had was a bit all over the place and even a touch contradictory. Furthermore, I found the characters lacking somewhat, as many of them felt very flat and one note other than the twins. I wanted to know more about these people that we are introduced to, but it never really happens.

That being said, I think there’s a lot of good stuff in this novel, and it’s something I totally see the appeal of in terms of the audience it’s written for. While I wasn’t super convinced by some plot aspects in this novel, I was swept up in the mystery that Haddix crafted, and the story she was attempting to tell. This is a very plot focused novel, so if you’re looking for good characterization, that department is somewhat lacking. However, if you like a good mystery, and don’t mind suspending your disbelief a little bit, there’s a lot of fun packed into this story. I’m curious to see if book two will expand more on a lot of the questions that the ending left me with.