I can’t believe how lucky I am to have snagged an interview with an author whose book is one of my all-time favourites! If you’d been around for my January Wrap-Up, this name would probably be familiar to you. I read Gloria’s debut novel, American Panda, in February and I loved it as much as I hoped I would. I cannot seem to shut up about it and even made a friend on Twitter when I was raving about it once. Even though Gloria has been busy chasing deadlines for her next book, she took the time off to respond to me and I cannot express my gratitude enough for this wonderful opportunity! With that little introduction aside, let’s dive in to the Q&A part.
Some quick information about the special guest for today –
Gloria Chao is an MIT grad turned dentist turned writer. She currently lives in Chicago with her ever-supportive husband, for whom she became a nine-hole golfer (sometimes seven). She is always up for cooperative board games, Dance Dance Revolution, or soup dumplings. She was also once a black belt in kung-fu and a competitive dancer, but that side of her was drilled and suctioned out. American Panda is her debut novel, and Misaligned is forthcoming fall 2019.
N: Hello, Gloria! It’s a pleasure to have you here on Unputdownable Books. Congrats on the publication of your debut novel! I’m so happy that American Panda is out in the world and that it’s so well-received! I’m curious to know, what put you on the path of writing after graduating from MIT?
G: Hello, Nandini! Thank you for all the support of my book. It means the world! I discovered my love of writing when I was in dental school. Dentistry was a bad fit for me: I was germ-conscious, I didn’t find the physical handiwork enjoyable, and the field wasn’t as scientific as I previously believed. I was so miserable that my escape was reading young adult novels and, eventually, writing them.
N: I’m still contemplating if engineering was the best choice for me, so I can relate to that on some level. I can see that you and the main character in American Panda, Mei, have some things in common from your bio and the plot of the book. What parts of Mei reflect you and what are the differences in your personalities?
G: Like Mei, I’m Taiwanese American, I grew up with traditional parents, I went to MIT, and I’m germ conscious, nearsighted, sweaty, and don’t get a lot of pop culture references (I was also made fun of at MIT for not having seen Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings). The differences are that I found myself and my path later than Mei, and
I’m socially awkward in a different way than her (or so I’d like to think).
N: I wish you get a chance to watch The Lord of the Rings in your lifetime, or, better yet, read it, because it’s my favourite series of all time! But I wouldn’t hold that against you at all. Since you mentioned social awkwardness, I was wondering if it was difficult on the personal front for you to talk about some of the negative aspects of your culture in your book?
G: I wrote American Panda with the goal of presenting an honest portrayal of Chinese culture. Whether something is positive or negative in a culture is up for interpretation, so I wrote with the goal of capturing parts of the culture that many characters viewed differently. I also worked very hard to write the parents’ side of the story sympathetically, and I have heard from many readers that I have helped them understand their parents better and improve their relationship (thank you,
readers!! I heart you!).
N: I loved your answer! I agree that everything can be viewed as both negative and positive depending on how you see it. I’m definitely one of the readers who benefited a lot from this book and got an understanding of what it’s like from my parents’ point of view. Could you share which line from American Panda you’re most proud of writing?
G: I’d have to go with my editor’s favorite line, which I think captures an important piece of the book –
Mom: “Mei, I want more for you than me. I always have.”
N: I’m pretty sure I was sobbing through all the mother-daughter moments towards the end. Mei’s mother is such an inspiration! Speaking of things to be proud of, what according to you is the best part of coming from Taiwanese culture?
G: It’s hard to know how much of this was culture vs something else, but for me, I love how much my parents stressed hard work, family, and education (even moving just so I could go to a better school). I also love the food, Chinese dance, Chinese New Year, and the Mandarin language!
N: I think a lot of eastern cultures stress on the importance of family, which is one of things I’m grateful for having grown up in an Asian country. I wish I could speak Mandarin because I work for a Taiwanese company and I’ve learnt that knowing the language can be a game-changer! Moving on to something more fun – since your bio mentions board games, which one is your favourite?
G: I love Takenoko! And there’s a panda so it’s perfectly in theme. I know you asked for just my favorite, but I can’t help listing some others I love: Duel, Ticket to Ride, Pandemic, Cranium. My husband and I get a new game every holiday as one of our traditions!
N: That’s so adorable! I wish mine (whenever that happens) would get me a book as it would be totally on brand for me. Since I’m inevitably going to read every book you put out, I’m dying to know what your next book, Misaligned, is all about! Can you give us a little teaser for it?
G: Misaligned will be out fall 2019 with Simon Pulse, and the book follows a teen outcast, Ali, who is the only Asian in her small, predominantly white Midwestern town. The book explores racism and prejudice, and when another Asian family moves to town, everyone believes Ali and the other Chinese boy belong together. Despite her initial resistance, she begins falling for him, the one who understands her in a way no one else can, only to
learn that her mother forbids them from being together. As Ali searches for the reasoning behind her mother’s disapproval, she unearths dark family secrets that threaten her future. Fun fact: This book was actually inspired by a real phenomenon in China!
N: I feel like Misaligned has a darker tone than American Panda and I’m so excited that it’s going to tackle some important issues! It was great having you on my blog! Thank you for agreeing to do this even though you have a busy schedule. I wish you all the very best for all your future releases!
I’ll stop with the exclamation marks from this point on, I promise. If this chat made you curious about American Panda, here is the synopsis and the gorgeous cover (just one more time) for you –
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?
Signed copies available at: 57th Street Books
I hope this was as much fun for you to read as it was for me to put together. Is this book on your radar or have you already read it? Which book did you expect to love and you really enjoyed? Let me know in the comments section below.