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When my 13-year-old daughter read Front Desk by Kelly Yang twice in a row and told me I had to read it, I should have picked it up right away. But I forgot about it. Thankfully I remembered again when it won the Asian Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature. My daughter was right.

The Story

Mia Tang and her parents are Chinese immigrants struggling to find their footing in America. They take a job as motel managers, only to be cheated out of most of their paycheck by their tyrannical boss, Mr. Yao. Mia is determined to help her exhausted parents as much as possible by running the front desk.

Mia believes she’s found a way to get her family off the poverty rollercoaster through an essay contest. But not only is it a big risk, it requires Mia to trust that her English skills are good enough to compete. With the help of some new friends, Mia finds the courage to act bravely and with kindness.

Why I Loved Front Desk

  • Perspective--I love stories that give the reader a new perspective on what someone else’s life is like. We are a nation of immigrants, and it’s important for our kids to see that starting over in a new country takes courage.
  • Themes–There are so many beautiful themes in this books. It’s about kindness, poverty, racism, family, the American dream, and the power of the written word.
  • Historicity–I really appreciated author Kelly Yang’s note at the end of the book. Many of the events in the story actually happened to her and her family. She also explains why Chinese immigrants in the 1980’s had it so much harder than those who came later.

What Parents Should Know

  • Language–There are two swear words, neither by any of the kids, and a smattering of course language like screw up, sucks and fart. 
  • Heavy topics–This book deals with a lot, but generally in a very appropriate way. Poverty, drunkenness, racism, loan sharks, and exploitation each have their place in Mia’s world. However, this is one of the very reason’s this book makes such a great read-aloud or listen-together book. Take this opportunity to talk with your kids about these real-world issues.
  • Portrayal of Police–I will say the one group who didn’t have a balanced portrayal in this story was police officers. Certainly, cops are a mixed bag, just like any other group, and power is easy to abuse. So talk your young readers through this issue. Kids are smart enough to understand that one or two people can’t represent a whole group.
  • Choices–Mia does make some questionable choices. While she doesn’t outright lie, she does hide things from her parents. But she has good motives and comes clean in the end.

I really loved Front Desk. I highly recommend it for kids ten and older for a read-alone. But it’s also a great family read-aloud. It’s appropriate for younger kids who’s parents are there to explain some of the tougher issues mentioned above. My family listened to the audiobook, which was fantastic!

What book has your family enjoyed together recently?

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