Two Books About Growing Up, Two Different Opinions: Frankie by Shivaun Plozza & American Panda by Gloria Chao

by Shivaun Plozza
Release Date: November 7th 2018
Genres: YA, Contemporary, Romance, Aussie
Format: eARC
Buy on Amazon | Buy on B&N
Source: ARC received for review purposes

I would like to know what the people of Australia are drinking because goddamn can they write. I have yet to read a book by an Aussie author that I’ve disliked. The quality of their writing is so superior to any other writing styles that I’ve encountered. Frankie was no different. It was such a fresh, riveting story with an extremely compelling main character.

I loved Frankie. She’s a giant ball of fury and I related quite a bit to her. She’s angry, pissed off and unapologetic about it all. I mean this is a girl who punches a douche-nozzle at school and gets expelled for it, but doesn’t care about it because he deserved it. Her life is thrown upside down when she finds out that she has a half-brother, Xavier, who gets in contact with her. Only a few days later, Xavier goes missing, and Frankie tries to look for him. You get to experience every emotion with Frankie as she navigates finding her brother, new discoveries about her mother, and as she battles real life, in general. Shivaun Plozza writes emotions really well, and I loved that I was so in sync with Frankie. I also liked Xavier a lot. He was such a sweet kid, with a heart of gold. He goes out of his way to connect with Frankie before he goes missing, and it’s the most endearing thing. Frankie’s aunt, Vinnie, who raises her is another character I absolutely adored. She’s a sassy spitfire who takes no bullshit from anyone. She’s so wonderfully strong and supportive though, and just the sort of loving person Frankie needs in her life. Even when Frankie drives her mad, she is just there for her niece and it warmed my cold heart!

I also loved how much attention was given to the Melbourne setting. It comes to life in Frankie, and I loved how the landscape was just as much part of a story as the characters were. It’s bright, vivid and I felt like I was in Melbourne while I was reading Frankie. It’s also a book that touches on issues like privilege, socioeconomic conditions and the importance given to people with more wealth and power, by the very people who are supposed to help you. There’s also a bit of a romance with a mysterious fellow in Frankie. It’s subtle, but I loved it. I constantly looked forward to their interactions. They had a hate-to-love vibe that I totally dug. Honestly, this is such a fantastic story, and it’s going on my list of re-reads for sure. I love it when a book makes me feel every emotion. By the end of Frankie I was an absolute mess, because it hit me right in the heart.

All in all, Frankie was a fantastic read. Be sure to add this to your TBR if you’re looking for a stellar YA contemporary, especially if you’re a Marchetta fan!

American Panda
by Gloria Chao
Release Date: February 6th 2018
Genres: YA, Contemporary, Romance
Format: eARC
Buy on Amazon | Buy on B&N
Source: ARC received for review purposes

It pains me to say this, but American Panda just wasn’t the book for me. I was so excited to dive into the story. From the cover and the synopsis, it sounded like just the contemporary YA for me. But I thought both the cover and the synopsis for this book were very misleading, because I didn’t get out of it the cute, fluffy and romantic story that I was promised. Before I get into my review, I want to point out that my thoughts and feelings towards this book has everything to do with my expectations. Many many Asian American readers have connected to this story and Mei’s experiences and I don’t mean to walk over any of their valid feelings. So I would definitely urge you to read their reviews on Goodreads after you’ve read mine.

Anyways, this book. I had such high hopes, but like I said, it just wasn’t the kind of book for me. Here’s the thing, I’m not opposed to reading books with tough topics and that are sad and depressing, but I need to mentally prepare myself for them. As you can imagine, I was wholly unprepared for how devastating this book was. I buddy-read this with Rashika and the whole time I was just stressed out. American Panda is the story of Taiwanese-American Mei, who grew up in a highly conservative family and is now off to college to study to become a doctor. Mei grows up in a very controlling environment. Her parents dictate her every move, and the pressure and expectations they put on her is stifling. Mei, however, takes it all in without much complaint. I was ready to love Mei’s character, but I thought she fell flat. Her characterization, along with other characters in the book, were surface level. I didn’t the author dug as deep as she could have with them. Ultimately what happened was that none of these characters left an impression on me. Towards the end, she did wind up growing on me as she began to take the steps that would lead her to a happier life, but I really wish I had connected more with her.

Her parents, honestly, infuriated me. I know Mei’s parents are a reality for a lot of Asian Americans, particularly East Asians, but part of me couldn’t help but think they were quite extreme in their behavior. They are primarily why I was so stressed and upset throughout the book. I wanted them to see the wrong in their ways and to accept Mei and her brother for the wonderful kids they were. Some of the things they do would likely constitute of abuse had Mei been younger, and I just didn’t like the negative feelings they brought about. I think a lot of my mixed feelings towards American Panda also arose from the writing. It’s not very polished, and the author does a lot of telling instead of showing. I could definitely see the potential there, and have no doubt that with more books she’ll win me over. There is a romance in American Panda, but that too didn’t wow me. The few things I did like were some of the elements to Mei’s culture that were written brilliantly.

Overall, I think the word “disappointed” sums up my feelings for American Panda. If you’re expecting a cute, funny and diverse rom-com a la When Dimple Met Rishi, then you should alter your expectations. It’s an important book certainly, and I hope Asian American teens will be able to relate to the story. It just wasn’t for me, unfortunately.

What are some of your favorite Aussie YA books? Have you read books like American Panda?
Let me know in the comments below!

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