An update from book club!
Today we discussed Kelly Yang’s award-winning novel Front Desk, which follows Mia Tang, a ten-year-old girl who immigrates to the U.S. from China with her parents, and now helps them run a motel in California. Kelly Yang wrote the novel based on her real childhood experiences. Mia and her family struggle with poverty and their mean boss, Mr. Yao. They also secretly hide other Chinese immigrants who are struggling, letting them stay the night in their motel. Mia has to deal with school, where the kids tease her for being poor and Chinese. Mia loves writing and English, although her mom wants her to focus on math, thinking that, as an immigrant, Mia won’t ever become good at English. Things get a bit better when Mia befriends a girl named Lupe, who understands what she’s going through. Mia also befriends the weeklies, the people who live permanently in the motel, including Hank, a Black man whom Mia helps exonerate from a wrongful accusation of car theft. The story comes to a climax when Mr. Yao wants to sell the motel, and Mia organizes all her new friends to band together to buy it from him.
We had a lively discussion of Front Desk. Some students loved the book, and one student didn’t enjoy it because it was sad to read about all the hard things Mia and the other immigrants go through. One person loved the happy ending, while others found it unrealistic that Mia and her friends would be able to get together enough money to purchase the motel. We brainstormed different ways we would end the novel if we were writing it!
We also talked about our favorite parts of the book, our favorite characters, and what we thought about Jason, Mr. Yao’s son, who has a real character arc throughout the novel, going from a bully, just like his father, to standing up for what's right. We discussed Mia’s relationship with her mother and father; Mia’s friendship with Hank; and how lying functions in the story. Mia’s friendship with Lupe improves when they stop lying to each other about their lives; however, Mia uses lying for good when she writes a pretend reference letter for Hank, and a pretend letter from a lawyer for one of the immigrants whose passport was being withheld. People chimed in with their opinions about when it is right and wrong to lie in our own lives.
Finally, we finished off with a creative writing activity. We had two prompts to choose from: writing a story about a kid put in charge of their family business for the day; or writing a list of customs and phrases for an imaginary place (like the list Mia writes about the U.S.). It was fun to see what people came up with!
We’ll be back next month on November 26th at 9:00am PT to discuss Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo—looking forward to seeing you there!
Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo