Front Desk by Kelly Yang is so good. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me want to rush out and give a copy to all the kids I know (starting with Larrabee).
Set in the early 1990s, Front Desk is the story of ten-year-old Mia Tang, who just moved to the United States from China. Her parents take a job managing a motel in Anaheim, California, and Mia often handles the front desk. The motel owner, Mr. Yao, makes life difficult for her parents, while she has to deal with his son Jason at school.
Some of the things I loved most about this book are:
- Mia. Mia is a terrific narrator. She’s caring, brave, resourceful, and optimistic. Kids will root for her whether she’s helping her father wash towels in the bathtub when the washing machine breaks or navigating 5th grade as the only girl who can’t afford jeans.
- Mia’s friendship with Lupe. At school, Mia bonds with Lupe, the daughter of Mexican immigrants.
- Mia’s relationship with her parents. Mia’s mother and father want only the best for her but sometimes fail to understand what she’s going through.
- Mia’s hotel community. Mia and her parents left their extended family behind in China, but they find a new one with Hank and the other weeklies and with the Chinese immigrants they feed and house at the hotel.
- Mia’s letters. Throughout the story, Mia writes letters, including demand letters, thank you letters, and letters of recommendation. Although she’s not a native English speaker, Mia is a character who changes the world with her English words.
This book tackles tough, discussion-worthy topics, such as immigration, poverty, and racial discrimination, but it does so in the context of a story that’s engaging and accessible to kids. Highly recommend!