Guest Post: Author Gloria Chao!

Hey guys! Today on the blog, we have a special surprise for you -- author Gloria Chao, author of 2018 release American Panda, is here to talk about her experience with writing college YA! In addition to her guest post we also have a fun little book GIF and book info to share, as well as some more info about Gloria herself. So without further ado, it's time to give the floor over!

Guest Post

When I started writing American Panda, I knew I wanted my protagonist to explore the fear and freedom that comes with being on your own for the first time. I also wanted her to begin asking herself what she wants, even if that’s different from her parents’ dream for her. For this kind of self-discovery, college was the appropriate setting. 

Unfortunately, a college setting is an enormous hurdle to landing a book deal because it doesn’t cleanly fit into a category. And in publishing, these divisions are so important to selling a book, which typical consumers may not be aware of.

In the first draft of my book, the protagonist, Mei, was a twenty-two-year-old college senior applying to medical schools. Along the way, she realizes she wants a different future. I queried as new adult but was quickly told that the manuscript did not fit the “dark romance mold” that was developing at that time around the emerging category. 

I rewrote the manuscript to women’s fiction, changing from first person to third, altering the tone, and expanding the manuscript 20K words. After a year of reading women’s fiction, revising, and querying, I slowly realized that even with the changes, the manuscript still did not cleanly fit the women’s fiction mold. 

Eventually, an agent suggested I rewrite the manuscript to young adult, with a seventeen-year-old protagonist. When I started rewriting in a first-person YA voice, everything clicked; YA is what I was meant to write. Instead of applying to medical schools, Mei was now a college freshman deciding on a major, all while her parents were heavily pressuring her to take the premed track. With this version of the manuscript, I signed with my brilliant agent. 

However, even though Mei was the “correct” age now, my agent informed me it would be a tough sell because the protagonist was no longer in high school, and college YA stories are the exception, not the rule. I’ve seen readers asking on Twitter why there aren’t more college YA stories, and this hurdle is likely the reason. I am grateful every day that I found an editor and imprint supportive of American Panda’s MIT setting. It took years of rewriting, but it was completely worth it to get to keep Mei in college, the framework most conducive to her character arc. (And my other goal to write about MIT’s hidden gems was also fulfilled. You can look forward to reading about chair surfing in tunnels, secret courtyard gardens, and hacks on The Great Dome!) 

Personally, I’d love to see more college books that provide mirrors and windows into a relatively unexplored time of life, one that can arguably be the most difficult. You’re learning how to take care of yourself all while making critical decisions that will affect the rest of your life. Not to mention, socializing and dating is a whole new world, where new rules apply, parents aren’t present (unless you have traditional Taiwanese parents like Mei’s living nearby), and everyone is trying to figure out who they are.

A lot of YA books try to work around the “must be in high school” limitation by setting the books at boarding schools or finding a way to get rid of the parents (summer vacation, road trips, visiting a cool aunt, etc.). I’m guessing this is done because they want to explore the first time being away from home but feel constrained by the high school limitation. For many, myself included, “coming of age” didn’t happen until college, and I think we need more college-specific experiences reflected in literature to help those struggling through this transition. For me, I could have used more guidance and more perspectives to help me feel less alone, to help me feel more confident in my feelings, my choices.

With American Panda, I hope to show readers it’s okay not to know sometimes, and it’s okay if this transition is difficult. It’s normal to feel confused, to not quite belong, to not agree with others, even your loved ones. Finding the right road is as tough as traveling down it, and I believe knowing the struggles of others can help. I hope American Panda provides one more college experience to comfort and guide those who are lost. And I hope there will be more and more college stories in the future to fill the void and round out the range of experiences out there.

About The Author

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. Visit her tea-and-book-filled world at and find her on Twitter@gloriacchao.

About American Panda

(Wow, look at this super adorable GIF cover! *heart eyes*)

Title: American Panda
Author: Gloria Chao
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Hardcover, 320 Pages
Publication Date: February 6th, 2018

Summary: 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? 
We'd like to thank Gloria for being awesome enough to stop by our blog today -- it really was a pleasure! And if American Panda isn't on your TBR yet, what are you waiting for?! I requested an ARC of this book way back when the cover was announced this past spring, because I was just so excited to get it in my hands -- and now I'm crossing my fingers and eagerly awaiting!

Also, shoutout to all of our college bloggers and readers -- here's to buckling up for the last month of classes before finals and winter break!

 math study learning exam studying GIF

1 comment

  1. Omg...I couldn't agree with you more about the "coming of age" happening for me until college. (I'm South Asian and *very* sheltered in high school!)

    My YA novel is squarely set in high school where they're about the graduate, and I've written an NA romantic suspense that my agent and I are shopping around. She'd just suggested yesterday that we switch my NA to YA for some of the same reasons you mention above.

    I've been debating it since yesterday with my online friends, my agent, and some of my beta readers, and your post couldn't have come at a better time! I'm so glad it worked out for you! <3


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