I am excited to share a review of a recent read of mine: Front Desk by Kelly Yang. A good friend of mine recommended this book after reading it for her book club. I am really glad I picked it up!
- I haven’t read many books about Asian immigrants in America (I can only think of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet which is different in it’s approach) so that was fascinating for me to read about. I learned so much about immigrant experiences in America and their difficult lives and circumstances. Sometimes I couldn’t believe they really lived that way or were treated so cruelly!
- All the connections to Kelly Yang’s life! I thought it was so interesting that she experienced most of these experiences (good and bad) for herself. Makes her story even more authentic and engaging.
According to Goodreads, “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?”
The biggest highlight of this book for me was our main character, Mia. She is definitely a fantastic protagonist. I love her narrator voice. I love her passion, her determination, her creativity, her work ethic, and her kindness. Mia does make mistakes and her relationships with her parents aren’t perfect. But I think her flaws simply add to the charm of her character. She is an authentic person who is trying to find a better life and chase her dreams at the same time. But she also learns that life isn’t always fair. Whil a hard lesson, I think it’s also a useful one. She is a great example of how one person can change the lives of many around her. One of my favorite ways she helps those around her is through her letters. It’s so fun to see how her writing changes over time and how her letters really change things for people–including herself!
I also enjoyed the cast of characters surrounding Mia. The weeklies who live at the motel full time are a lot of fun. I was most intrigued by Hank and the difficult experiences he has had to overcome. Despite their differences, the weeklies and Mia become good friends. I love. I also loved Mia’s friend Lupe. They begin their friendship by both pretending to be someone they aren’t. But I love that they open up and become closer because they are both living a life different than they expected in America. Mia’s parents are also interesting characters especially in the different ways they handle the challenges of immigrant life in America. While I didn’t always agree with the way they handled their struggles or what they taught Mia, I appreciate their dedication to giving their daughter a better life.
Some aspects of this book surprised me and were harder to read about. There are some intense and even scary moments in this novel–Mia’s mom being beat up, the drunk man attacking Mia, learning that their family in China is more successful than them, Hank’s experience with discrimination, and all the horrible immigrant stories especially with loan sharks (yikes!). I don’t think these should be taken out or anything, it just surprised me how difficult and unfair life was for them. Mr Yao was a difficult character to read about. I would have liked more background on him. Why is he so horrible? I am glad there is hope for his son, Jason, but I would have liked more development of his character. And sometimes, Mia’s relationship with her mom just broke my heart. I thought it was so sad when her mom said she was a bike and couldn’t compete with the other kids in English. Her mom makes some progress in the book but still seems to not believe in Mia completely even at the end.
This book tells an important story that shows an unfortunate side of the American dream and of Americans. In the middle of the book, I felt pretty discouraged–America seemed to be full of mean, scheming white people who wouldn’t let Asians or blacks have a fair chance. But I am glad I kept reading and finished the book with the hope and potential for change. Yes, America isn’t a perfect place, but it is free. And I am glad Mia got to see that in the end.
Overall, a quick read with short chapters that are easy to get into. This could be a fun read aloud book for older middle grade kids. There are many beautiful lessons about not judging others, overcoming racism, and fighting for what you believe in. Would definitely start some interesting discussions about race, immigration, respect, hard work, doing what’s right, and fighting for your dreams.
I’m intrigued by book 2 coming out later this year. What will Mia do next?
What are some of your favorite novels based on immigrant stories?