Monday, July 23, 2018

MG Realistic Fiction: Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Front Desk by Kelly Yang
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Arthur A.. Levine Books 
Number of pages:  286
Published:  May 29th, 2018
Source:  Library
Opening Lines:   "My parents told me that America would be this amazing place where we could live in a house with a dog, do whatever we want, and eat hamburgers till we were red in the face."

When Mia Tang was about ten-years-old her parents immigrated from China to the United States looking for a better life, a place where they could be "freer."  With only a couple hundred dollars,  they struggled to find work, a place to live, even the money for food.  Initially, Mia's dad found a job as the assistant fryer at a Chinese restaurant, and despite Mia's mom being an engineer in China, she took on a job as a waitress to help the family to gather enough money for a one bedroom apartment.  Mia was a go-getter, always eager to contribute to the family, so she even tried her hand at waitressing like her mother.  Unfortunately, she was too small for the task and following a mishap with an order the whole family was let go.  Eventually, Mia's mom found a managerial position at a motel in Anaheim where the family could live on the property rent-free, and earn a portion of the room rental fees in wages.  A deal that is too good to be true when they learn that the owner, Mr. Yao has been taking advantage of them.  Mr. Yao not only has a strict set of rules that they have to follow, he even cheats them out of some of their weekly pay.  Mia thinks she may have a solution to their problem, entering an essay contest to win a motel in Vermont, but where will she get the money for the entrance fee?  

When Mia and her family move to the motel, Mia takes over running the front desk and even labels herself the "manager," with a sign and all.  While she mans things up front, technically within one of Mr. Yao's rules, her parents are able to get all the daily cleaning of the guest rooms done.  At first, Mia's most difficult task is getting adults to take a ten-year-old seriously, especially after her rocky start navigating the early wake-up call system but Mia does come up with some unique solutions to the problems she encounters.  Not only does she put up the sign, she figures out how to manage cleaning the towels after the washing machine breaks, she successfully hides fellow immigrants looking for a place to stay for the night from Mr. Yao, she even wins over the most difficult customers.  

Now Mia's new school is a bit more of a challenge.  Mia loves to write, but her mother is concerned that the other children know and speak better English than Mia.  She's also has a group of girls who constantly say mean things about her clothes and then there's how to handle having Mr. Yao's son Jason in her class.   On the bright side, Mia meets Lupe, a girl who's families living situation is similar to her own, and there's also the "weeklies" at the motel who treat Mia with kindness, with Hank being one who she has a special bond with.  

 I'm pretty sure that I first heard about Front Desk from MG Book Village, then it was making the rounds on Twitter and I'll admit I fell in love with that cover.   There's a beautiful Author's Note explaining that the story was inspired by events in Yang's own life and that it was a story that she wanted to share with her son that would be uplifting.  How she hoped that the story would let other immigrant children know that "you are not alone."  The story is so much more than about a young girl managing the front desk at the motel her parents are running.  It includes the themes of bullying, discrimination, unfair work practices targeting immigrants and racial profiling.  It provides a realistic perspective on the experiences of immigrants, injustices occurring in the world while also building empathy.  There are heartwarming moments and practices that touch on current events, but overall it's also a story about the strength of friendships and a network of "weeklies" who capture their own dream of happiness.  

Favorite line:  "Don't be sorry.  Be better."       


  1. I think I heard about this too. My daughter is adopted from China, so I'm always interested in books like this. Thanks.

  2. I have been reading rave reviews about this book. I look forward to checking it out. Sounds amazing!