Middle Grade Review: Front Desk

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Series: Front Desk
Genre: Middle Grade
Maturity Level: 3 (Content warnings: Violence against women, racism, unjust policing policies)
View on Goodreads
Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

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?

I picked up this book because on my very first day as a librarian an extremely passionate, well-spoken young lady told me this was her favorite book and asked if I’d read it. She told me she liked to read it over and over again. And, on the one hand, I see why because WOW. But on the other hand, what kind of ten year old enjoys reading something so difficult? I mean, most of the other kids still think Goosebumps is the height of literary achievement.

Front Desk is loosely based on the story of Yang’s own childhood. As such, the descriptions, especially of the emotions experienced by Mia and her family, are gut-wrenchingly authentic. I mean, yowsers, Yang doesn’t pull any punches. From racism, to the exploitation and slavery of immigrants, to violent crime, Mia sees it all. Her feelings are so raw and real, I cried through half this book.

Yet it is such a beautiful story of family, friendship, and HOPE. When you’re stuck on the wrong roller coaster, sometimes hope is all you have. Mia has it in spades. Her determination and absolute refusal to give up is admirable. She’s also got spunk coming out of her ears, which made her a really fun protagonist to read about. I can see why young girls would connect with her so well.

As someone currently riding the rich roller coaster, this was also a reminder to consider how I treat those less fortunate than me. Though Mia takes control of her own destiny, her story could never have had a happy ending without some help. Am I a Mr. Yao, or am I the kindly doctor? That’s the kind of thing it is never too early for kids to start asking themselves, but not too many books challenge them to.

While this is technically a Middle Grade book, I think Young Adults would enjoy it too, and there’s plenty for them to dissect. This would be an EXCELLENT pick for the middle school classroom.

Overall, just fantastic. Maybe a little too hard-hitting to be a favorite of mine, I am *so* glad I read it, and so glad Yang opened my eyes even further to the ways immigrants can struggle in this country. I strongly recommend to any and all Americans.

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