Book Review: Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Kait's Bookshelf Front Desk by Kelly YangSo far 2020 has brought incredible reading my way. If you missed my review of Cynthia L. Copeland’s debut graphic novel for young readers, Cub, you can go back and read it here. My second read of the New Year, Front Desk by Kelly Yang, has been on my TBR for some time. I am so happy I finally got to read this book and only wish that I’d pushed some others out of the way and gotten to it sooner!

Front Desk is a book I will keep, re-read, and recommend. In fact, I hope everyone reads and recommends this book, especially teachers. Front Desk is a timely tale about a ten year old Chinese girl named Mia who immigrates to America with her parents. Drawn largely from Ms. Yang’s own experiences growing up, Front Desk is an emotionally charged novel sure to tug on your heart strings and get you fired up at the same time.

From the publisher:

“Mia Tang has a lot of secrets. Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests. Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed. Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language? It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?”

Front Desk tells the story of ten year old Mia Tang who is an immigrant in America from China. Her parents came to America with the hopes of a better life and a better future for Mia. Mia was expecting a world of fun, freedom, a new house, maybe a dog, and all the hamburgers she could eat. What she and her parents got were discrimination and abuse. As immigrants, they were forced to take jobs with hard physical demands for very little pay. Their bosses often took advantage of them because they knew they could get away with it. Eventually, Mia’s parents land a job working the front desk of a motel in California. While they no longer have to pay rent and get to live in the motel, they soon learn that their boss charges them in other ways. Their boss, Mr. Yao, is a cold, cruel man who himself came from China. But unlike the Tangs who have happy memories of family back home, Mr. Yao despises his Chinese heritage. He has taught his son, Jason, to be the same way and to live as an all-American boy.

With no friends her age to turn to, Mia quickly becomes friends with the “weeklies” – people who live at the motel. One weekly in particular, a kind black man named Hank, becomes a good friend to Mia and her parents and helps them understand discrimination in America. Eventually, Mia befriends another girl her age, Lupe, who is an immigrant from Mexico.

Mia tackles a lot for a ten year old – moving to a new country, discrimination, poverty, and bullying at school. But she is one resilient little girl who never gives up. I found this book incredibly moving! Mia and her parents are written so beautifully that I just wanted to reach past the pages and hug them. They were so real to me. This book made me feel everything – anger, outrage, disgust, joy, hope, you name it! I cried with and cheered for Mia and her family.

Front Desk is eye-opening in terms of what immigrants face when trying to start a new life in America. It breaks my heart to see the kind of hatred they encounter when really they want the same thing everyone else does and that we’re all entitled to – safety, freedom, and hope.

This story is largely drawn from real-life events in the author’s life. Ms. Yang was a young immigrant who lived with her parents in motels after arriving in America. I love that she has shared her story and applaud her for doing it so honestly. I think this book should become required reading in middle grade classrooms. It will open critical discussions that need to happen to teach kids about diversity, discrimination, and kindness. I cannot recommend Front Desk enough! The publisher recommends this book for ages 8 to 12 years old. I recommend it for anyone 8 and up, including adults. READ THIS BOOK!!

Front Desk is available now, and Three Keys, Ms. Yang’s follow up novel about Mia, releases on September 15, 2020! I can’t wait to read it!

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