Front Desk by Kelly Yang


Front Desk is a semi autobiographical account of young Mia Tang who recently immigrated with her parents from China to the United States. When her parents get the opportunity to manage the Calivista Motel, they jump at the chance to earn $150 a day plus free rent. After signing the contract, what they don’t know is the owner Mr. Yao can change the terms at any time.  This not only means less money a day but also the financial responsibility of paying for refunds and broken appliances.  Still, Mia and her family continue to manage the Calivista with her parents taking care of the housekeeping and Mia managing the front desk.  Mia becomes friends with the Calivista weeklies who become her extended family.

Managing the front desk and being the new student at Dale Elementary School is a lot to handle but Mia is determined to succeed even when things get tough. While Mia wants to focus on becoming a better writer, her mother encourages Mia to spend more time doing math.  Her mother says “You just can’t be as good as the white kids in their language honey.  It’s their language,”  Mia though is insistent in proving her mother wrong practicing and perfecting her writing with the help of Calivista weekly Mrs. T’s dictionary-thesaurus.  Writing also becomes therapeutic when Mia wants to express her feelings after being teased at school or write an apology to a friend.  When weekly Hank who is African American gets wrongly accused of  a crime and subsequently loses his job, Mia decides to write a reference letter which helps him secure a new job.  Her writing also helps a friend of the family get his passport back from his dishonest employer.

Knowing that her writing has changed people’s lives for the better, Mia realizes she has the power to change her life too and for the first time in school, Mia honestly writes from the heart sharing a personal experience.  Hoping to change her family’s life, Mia also takes a leap of faith entering an essay contest to win a motel. As her friend Lupe says, “You can’t win if you don’t play.”

Front Desk is a story of hope and heart.  Mia is an exceptional character who shows not only a genuine kindness but also immense courage to help others.  She has good role models in her parents who help fellow immigrants by hiding them in empty motel rooms. Despite the obstacles they face, Mia and her parents continue to pick themselves up and keep going.

Kelly Yang’s story is a window for me to see life through the eyes of an immigrant family but also can be a mirror for young readers who have endured similar experiences.  At the end of the novel, she includes an author’s note sharing information about her own life as well as the struggles of Chinese families immigrating to America. When I am having a rough day, I will reread Front Desk and remember these important lessons:

  • Sometimes a mistake is actually an opportunity.
  • Words have the power to change lives.
  • Sometimes the people you least expect can blow you away with their courage and kindness.
  • Dreams can come true with kindness, courage, and determination.
  • Success is sweeter when shared with friends.

A very special thanks to Arthur A. Levine Books and Lizette Serrano of Scholastic for sending an ARC of Front Desk to my #bookexcursion group.  Pre-order Front Desk now, for it releases on May 29, 2018. Your life will be forever changed after reading. I know mine has.

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