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Front Desk

Book review by
Amanda Nojadera, Common Sense Media
Front Desk Book Poster Image
Immigrant kid tackles racism, bullying in powerful tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

A good introduction to Chinese culture, food, phrases. Kids will learn about racism and poverty that immigrants and minorities face in America. They'll also learn about grammar, spelling, punctuation, vocabulary.

Positive Messages

Mistakes are sometimes opportunities for growth that we can't see right away. No one is perfect -- that's what gives you character. You can't win if you don't play. Sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands and do what's right. You're never too young to make a difference in someone's life. Stay humble and real. Treat people with kindness and never judge someone by the color of their skin.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Mia is kind, thoughtful, empathetic, hardworking. She goes out of her way to help others and do what's right. Her parents risk their job to help other Chinese immigrants get back on their feet. Mia's dad is supportive of her dreams of becoming a writer. Hank becomes a great friend and protector to the Tangs. Lupe helps her realize she isn't alone. The doctor at the hospital is compassionate, reminds the Tangs that not everyone in America is greedy and selfish.

Violence

Mia accidentally cuts herself while making a spare room key. Jason gets bullied at school. Characters arrive at the motel after being beaten up by loan sharks or fleeing an ICE raid. Another character gets beaten up by robbers. A former motel guest threatens Mia. A drunk man grabs her by her shirt.

Sex
Language

Insults include "Chinese doughboy," "ugly-nese," "idiot," "Mr. Tightwad," "moron," and "loser." There's also one use each of "bull" and "bastard."

Consumerism

Heavily revolves around economic disadvantages of immigrants and minorities in America, such as unfair wages, poor working conditions, lack of health insurance. Mr. Yao is greedy. Mia's family wonders why everything in America has to do with money. Some characters resort to borrowing money from loan sharks. Mia understands that jeans are a status symbol among kids at school.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A drunk man comes to the Calivista and demands a room.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Kelly Yang's Front Desk is a powerful, moving tale about 10-year-old Mia Tang and her parents, who live and work at the Calivista Motel in California during the early 1990s. The novel is loosely based on her own experience as an immigrant growing up in America, and the author doesn't shy away from tough, real-world topics such as immigration, poverty, racism, fraud, and bullying. Characters arrive at the motel after being beaten up by loan sharks or fleeing an ICE raid. Another character is beaten up by robbers. Insults include "Chinese doughboy," "ugly-nese," "idiot," "moron," "loser," and "Mr. Tightwad." There's also one use each of "bull" and "bastard." Although there are many heartbreaking stories in the book, there are plenty of positive messages for kids about fighting for what's right, treating people with kindness and respect, and never judging someone by the color of their skin.

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What's the story?

Mia Tang and her parents live and work at the Calivista Motel in Anaheim, California. While her parents spend all of their time cleaning the rooms, Mia has taken it upon herself to manage the FRONT DESK and ensure that their guests -- including the Chinese immigrants that her parents hide in the empty rooms -- enjoy their stay. As she adjusts to life at the motel and her new school, Mia starts to realize that life isn't easy for outsiders in America. Can she use her love of writing, even though English isn't her first language, to help her family, friends, and the immigrants pursue their dreams?

Is it any good?

Loosely based on Kelly Yang's experience growing up as an immigrant in America, this powerful, moving tale highlights the importance of tolerance and diversity, making it a must-read for kids. Front Desk takes place in the early '90s, but many of the heartbreaking stories mentioned in the book are still a reality for immigrants and minorities today.

Yang doesn't shy away from tough topics such as racism and poverty and manages to present them in a way that's easy for kids to understand. As Mia's grasp of the English language grows and she uses her love of writing to change people's lives, kids will see that you're never too young to fight for what's right and make a difference.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Front Desk deals with immigration, racism, poverty, bullying, and violence. How do these issues affect the characters?

  • Why do you think Kelly Yang decided to write a story that mirrors her own life? What kind of power do immigrant stories hold? Do you know the story of how -- and why -- your family, or your ancestors, came to America? What challenges did they face at the time? What's different today?

  • Talk about the various kinds of diversity in the novel. Why are diverse representations important in children's and young adult literature? Check out these books for more stories that promote tolerance and diversity.

  • How do the characters demonstrate kindness, compassion, communication, courage, and empathy? Why are these important character strengths?

Book details

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