Immigration, poverty and racism are all really important topics in the news lately. Last month, I read a fantastic new book in which all three of those topics are central themes. What is this book I’m talking about? Front Desk by Kelly Yang!
The main character in the story is Mia Tang, a ten-year-old girl who has recently immigrated with her parents from China. Her parents are now working at the Calivista Motel while Mia runs the front desk. Sounds easy and fun, right? It’s not. Mia’s family is really poor, and the motel’s Scrooge of an owner, Mr. Yao, pays them very little. And on top of all that, Mia's family is hiding Chinese immigrants in the motel, and if the owner discovers their secret, they’re going to be in serious trouble.
But there’s hope! Mia finds out about an essay contest. If she wins, the people holding the contest will grant her family ownership of their motel in Vermont. She does have a few issues with writing in English, but she hopes that she can fix that. Although, there’s just one problem…it costs $300 to enter the contest. And how is Mia going to scrape together enough money to pay for it?
The problem of making friends in her new country is resolved quickly-Mia meets another immigrant girl, Lupe, and they become best friends. But over the course of the book, many more complications pop up in Mia's life: a stolen car, a pencil theft, money worries, their friend Hank’s difficulties (Hank lives at the Calivista - he's one of the "weeklies"), bullying, and more. Mia tries to help solve many of those problems by writing letters-helping Hank find a job, for instance, or writing a letter to store owners in town about a racist list of "bad" customers going around-even though she is still having issues with English.
Want to know something fascinating? Front Desk is semi-autobiographical! Kelly Yang actually immigrated from China and lived a lot like Mia-running a motel with a horrid owner. A lot of what happens to Mia in the story happened to Kelly Yang.
Front Desk is an inspiring, uplifting story that is impossible to put down. All the difficulties Mia confronts and how she looks for solutions until she finds one teaches us to persevere. The fact that much of the story is nonfiction, and that despite all the hardships the author faced, she went to a good college and became a writer reminds us how much immigrants contribute to this country.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2018. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!
Have you read this book? Or do you plan on reading it? Let us know in the comments below!