Front Desk was one of the last Books of the Month for 2022 I read for the MG group on Goodreads… I’ve stayed on as a Moderator for now, because I’m working on some more children’s stories. I’ve handed over the Book of the Month, though. Increasingly I’ve been finding myself adrift from contemporary MG fiction (as well as some of those classics!)
by Kelly Yang
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? (goodreads)
BOTM for October, with a theme of ‘books you didn’t want to read, but you loved’. I was happy this won the vote, as I thought it sounded good. The story starts with Mia’s parents struggling in their bid to find ‘freedom’ in America, but just getting ground down in poverty. The opportunity to work hard running a motel, and getting money for each filled room per night, sounds like a dream come true – especially as the accommodation comes free. But it turns out they are still at the whim of the owner, and then the reality of discrimination hits home too.
Mia is a bright (very bright) ten year old, who runs the front desk while her parents take all the hard work cleaning the rooms and doing the laundry. The washing machine breaks, and the owner says they must pay for it… the cleaning fluids are ruining Mum’s hands… and then there are the incidents which cause problems for everyone, including the residents.
Kelly Yang writes a vivid story, not surprisingly as she was carrying out all these motel tasks herself in her youth! Although fiction, a great many of these characters must echo people she’s met, and incidents she’s seen or heard, or experienced. The writing is so painfully real that I had to put the book aside for a week before coming back to it. Fortunately I had paused at the height of the bad stuff. From then on it becomes easier, problems solved through Mia’s ingenuity and tenacity. Many of them seem solved very easily, but this is a children’s book, so the possibilities of achievement should be fulfilled.
All in all this is a worthwhile book, which brings the experience of an immigrant, especially one of colour, home in the most incisive fashion. If only we could treat each other better, regardless of colour, status, etc..