Book Review

FRONT DESK by Kelly Yang

Rating: 4 / 5

I don’t read a lot of children’s’ literature which probably isn’t too surprising since I don’t actually have any children (and my furry kid doesn’t really care to have me read to her – the voices coming from my audiobooks are already a little questionable). That said, the #readingwomenmonth bingo board had a prompt for Kiddie Lit and the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge had a prompt for a children’s or middle grade book that has won a diversity award since 2009. FRONT DESK by Kelly Yang was the winner of the 2019 Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature, so it seemed a good choice.

FRONT DESK tells the story of ten year old Mia Tang who manages the front desk of the Calavista Hotel while her parents tend to the other needs of the hotel. The hotel isn’t in the best of neighborhoods and some of the clientele is less than savory, but there are also a core group of weekly guests who have settled into the hotel to make it a home.

Mia’s family made their way to America from China, envisioning a better life. In America, they are faced with a less than ideal situation, living homeless for a while. They finally land a job at the hotel, but are forced to work 24/7 for very little pay. Mia is a very smart girl who struggles with her written language, but has a passion for writing and is dedicated to improve. She uses her blossoming skills to advocate for those she cares for, helping them to say what they may not be able to say for themselves.

While a children’s book, this book tackles some heavy issues. Mia’s parents take in immigrants without charging them for their rooms and they share their stories of indentured servitude and the abuses they have faced. They teach Mia about loan sharks and the dangers that come with them. Mia witnesses discrimination from the hotel’s owner and from the police against African American guests.

Even Mia’s own mother struggles to believe that her daughter can ever be as good at speaking and writing English as those born in America. In her father, Mia does have an advocate who believes in her, but even his ambitions pale in comparison with Mia’s.

At the end of the book, the author talks about how she wrote Mia’s story from her own experiences as a child, living and working with her parents in the management of various hotels. That most of the situations in the book are drawn from real life gave the story more weight.

With the disclaimer that I am not a parent myself, I think that this is a book that would be best read along with a youth as it could definitely prompt a lot of discussion. (Trigger warnings for discrimination and violence.) While it isn’t my normal type of book pick, I did enjoy the story and rooting for Mia!

5 thoughts on “FRONT DESK by Kelly Yang”

  1. this does sound adorable! Once in a while I will pick up a children’s book for review just for the fun of it, my kids are way too old for kids books, unfortunately!

    Liked by 1 person

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