Updated: Dec 4, 2021
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Front Desk by Kelly Yang is a middle grade novel following Mia Tang and her family as they struggle to make ends meet as immigrants in America. Unable to keep jobs, the family is desperate for money. Luckily they find an opportunity to work at a motel that offers free rent and pays well. Unluckily, the owner, Mr. Yao, is less than friendly and is constantly treating the family unfairly. In addition, Mia's time at school becomes increasingly difficult as she is bullied by the other students. However, Mia's determination to help save the family despite the fact that numerous obstacles block the path makes an interesting story that looks at what it means to really be a family and at what cost, too.
As a story, I found this book very interesting and not like what I have read before. This book is very character driven with each conflict and event in the book. Each character adds something to the story. Whether it be a main character or someone who is causing conflict with the Tang family, each person does something. I did find that the number of characters got very hard to keep track of, but I didn't find this confusion to take me out of the story in any way. In addition, some of these characters were very racist and mean which became very frustrating as a reader. For example, Mr. Tao was constantly changing the contract he made with the Tang family when he hired them. The meanness and racism became difficult to read about after awhile, but I continued in hopes of finding a happy ending.
The events that actually happen in the book are all challenges that the characters must face. The events ranged from a car being stolen, hiding immigrants, people getting attacked, bullying and more. There were some lighter events, but I found most to be very intense.
The ending of the book happened very fast and I felt was very unrealistic. I know that middle grade books do sometimes stretch the boundaries of reality, but I found this to be especially so in this book. It did give me the happy ending that I was looking for, which was a relief to read after reading about so many bad events.
In general, I enjoyed the book. I felt the book was a good length and didn't drag in any place. I do feel there were too many characters and not enough good characters to make up for the mean ones. I especially liked Mia. She was smart, caring, dedicated and wanted to be the best person she could. Throughout the book she writes letters to help her friends and though I found these letter scenes very unrealistic, I did like seeing how dedicated she was when she wrote them and seeing her progress as a writer, also.
If you are looking for a somewhat short read that really illustrates the unfairness immigrants and black people face, then this book would be worth the read.
Parents' Note: This book is targeted at kids roughly 8-12. Though I do think this book is appropriate for this age group, it really sheds light on universal issues such as racism and how to deal with mean, unfair people. For example, this book has a scene in which an officer arrests a black man because of the color of his skin rather than if he actually committed the crime. Also, as I said earlier, Mr. Tao, who is hungry for money, is very mean and unfair which causes him to treat the Tang family despicably. I would recommend you read this book with your child so you will be able to talk through certain parts of the book. This is especially important because the lesson or explanation about these difficult topics is not always discussed right away or in a direct way and could therefore be misleading. Being available to talk with your child during or after some scenes could be a good opportunity to teach your child about these issues. As a book, I do think it realistically depicts many important issues and would be a very meaningful read for your child.