Front Desk (Scholastic Gold) Reviews

UPDATE TIME: 2019-05-28 
Review Score: 5 out of 5 star From 126 user ratings

" Love love LOVE. The real-life examples of the cycle of poverty, the overwhelming struggles of immigrants, and the social shame of racism...all treated in a sensitive, delicate way for young readers to digest, but not so lightly as to not be taken seriously. Mia is SUCH a wonderful character and you cheer for her and her family and friends at every turn. " said.

" A warm-hearted, heart-breaking and hopeful novel about being kind to everyone, no matter where they come from. Mia is a fantastic narrator and her story about her immigrant family's work in a motel is one that you will be swept up by. (10+)*Please note: this review is meant as a recommendation only. If you use it in any marketing material, online or anywhere on a published book without asking permission from me first, I will ask you to remove that use immediately. Thank you!* " said.

"ALL the stars, and easily one of my very favorite books of the year!!!!

FRONT DESK is highly deserving of every positive review. It’s an eye opening book that will warm your heart one minute, and have you shaking your head in frustration the next. I can’t remember the last time I experienced so many emotions, and felt like I really comprehended what it can be like for an immigrant family in America. You definitely need to make time to read this book, and add it to your classroom libraries and discussions.
" said.

" Front Desk, Kelly Yang's debut novel in the United States, received much support as a candidate for the 2018 Newbery awards. With a fierce nationwide debate happening at the time about immigration, the book spoke on the issue without bias or character assassination. The story draws heavily on Kelly Yang's experience in the early 1990s as a young immigrant to California from China. Mia Tang, a fifth-grader, isn't convinced moving to America was a good idea, but her parents seem certain. Leaving close family in China was painful, but worth the freedom of this new country. The transition has been rough: Mia's parents have difficulty finding employment, and Mia is lonesome for her cousin Shen back in China. The unemployment problem persists until Mia's parents apply at the Calivista Motel, a small, run-down business owned by a Mr. Yao. He offers a good wage for Mia's parents to manage the motel, one of several he owns across the U.S. If this job pans out, the Tangs' dream of prosperity in America will finally begin, but is Mr. Yao being completely honest with them?

Without being asked, Mia mans the Calivista's front desk, buzzing customers into the lobby and checking them into rooms. The guests are initially skeptical of the young girl behind the desk, but Mia doesn't lose heart. Her parents are too busy cleaning rooms to return to the desk and service customers, and Mia wants to do her share of the work. In addition to guests who stay only a night or two, there are five longterm residents called "weeklies" whom Mia gets to know well. All five are friendly to the Tangs. Mr. Yao, on the other hand, turns out to be a stingy, bitter man. He won't install any security measures to keep Mia safe at the front desk from abusive customers, and pays her parents substantially less than promised. If they don't like it, he'll hire a different immigrant family desperate to work. Mr. Yao's son Jason, a student in Mia's class at school, isn't much better than his father. Mia sticks out among her peers as the only Asian girl, as well as for her unfashionable clothes which are all her parents can afford, but Jason draws more attention to Mia by making fun of her in school. Why won't he leave her alone?

Living in poverty makes the Tangs vulnerable; having no insurance, a health crisis would cripple them with debt. After a customer beats up Mia's mother one day while Mia is at school, the scared, bleeding woman wants to avoid seeing a doctor, but she needs medical care. How will the Tangs bear the financial burden? Their situation is tenuous, but many Chinese immigrants have it worse, which Mia learns because of her parents' policy of allowing family friends to stay at the Calivista for no money when Mr. Yao is out of town. The cash-strapped Chinese guests tell horror stories of being indebted to loan sharks, of ruthless bosses who treat them like slaves, of being fired due to innocent misunderstandings. Poor as the Tangs are, they never refuse to house an immigrant for free as long as Mr. Yao isn't around, and Mia keeps a lookout for the skinflint owner. If her parents are caught admitting guests for no charge, the consequences will be dire.

Drama is a common occurrence at the Calivista, but the worst comes when Mr. Lorenz, a paying guest, has his car stolen. The police compile a list of recent guests who may be the perpetrator. To Mia's disgust, Mr. Yao assumes the African American woman staying at the motel last night, Mrs. Robinson, is the thief. He also grows suspicious of Hank, a middle-aged weekly who's as black as Mrs. Robinson. With no evidence, the police concentrate on Hank, rooting around his personal and professional life asking hostile questions until Hank's boss fires him. Mr. Yao shows no remorse; he'd throw Hank out if there weren't laws protecting him from immediate eviction because he's lived at the Calivista for more than thirty days. Hank is furious at the racist assault on his reputation, and Mia feels helpless to ease his suffering.

Mia still isn't fitting in at school. She speaks and writes English better than her parents, but her mother wishes she'd focus on math. A Chinese girl has no impediment when it comes to numbers, but her English skills will always lag behind, Mia's mother insists. Mia doesn't want to agree, but writing in English is a laborious task. Tenses are different in English, and idioms must be learned and used properly for a person's writing to sound normal. It takes Mia longer than other students to compose in English, consulting a dictionary-thesaurus to smooth out problems. Mia isn't sure what her writing goals are until she hears about an unusual contest: an elderly couple who have owned a motel for decades is offering it as the grand prize for an essay contest. The essay topic? What you would do if you owned a motel. Mia has plenty of experience at the Calivista's front desk, going to great lengths to make customers happy. The entry fee for the contest is three hundred dollars, but if Mia can scrape together the money, she believes she can win. Her parents would never have to worry about evil Mr. Yao again.

Mr. Yao's son Jason won't let up on Mia at school. He steals a fancy, expensive pencil Mia's father bought her, and claims it was his all along. How could Mia afford such a nice pencil, he pointedly reminds the teacher? At times Jason seems as despicable as his father, but whenever Mia is ready to write him off, he shows a flash of humanity. Would Jason come through for Mia if everything depended on it, or betray her as has been his pattern? Jason will play a role in the story's climax, when factors merge to threaten the Tangs' meager position at the Calivista. Mia's only friend in school is Lupe, a Hispanic girl whose family also has money problems, and their relationship has its ups and down before Mia realizes Lupe is a true friend she can't afford to lose. As the time comes for the essay contest winner to be selected, it becomes clear that Mia's family won't ever be secure as long as Mr. Yao controls their livelihood, but what can Mia do to change that? On her own, perhaps nothing...but she has more than just her family's resources to draw upon. A caring community has formed at the Calivista, people who don't judge the Tangs by the color of their skin and shape of their eyes. Could this community produce the miracle Mia's family needs? Succeed or fail, Mia will never again see America as a place of people who can't be bothered to help their neighbors.

Whether it's Mr. Yao's racist accusations or Mia's mother's refusal to believe Mia can excel at English because she's Chinese, discrimination based on group identity is harmful. When we assume on that basis how someone thinks or behaves, we divide them into categories that may be inappropriate to who they are as individuals. Blacks aren't more likely to commit crime because their skin is dark, and Asians don't necessarily have a knack for math. To insist otherwise ignores the independence of individuals in favor of an inaccurate collective model. From the actions of the police who harassed Hank because of his skin color, we might be tempted to label all cops racist, but the system isn't unjust because a pair of officers let bigotry cloud their judgment. Mia comes to see that America's justice system doesn't discriminate; this is what her parents meant when they said America is free and worth leaving China for. Reverting to group identity is a powerful instinct when things go wrong, but Front Desk is meant to dissuade us from doing so. As Kelly Yang puts it, "Often during tough times, the first instinct is to exclude. But this book is about what happens when you include, when, despite all your suffering and your heartache, you still wake up every morning and look out at the world with fresh, curious eyes." That youthful spirit of wonder and faith heals the wounds of tribal resentment. It's why Mia, her family, and friends are headed for a future that's worth writing home about.

Some parts of Front Desk feel disjointed, but the writing is exciting and rhythmic, a pleasure to read. Mia is easy to identify with, but so is Jason, complex as he is. We don't see every hidden struggle he endures, but being Mr. Yao's son has to be stressful. Front Desk is a roller coaster of feelings, but it's an optimistic story with a timeless message for readers to cherish. Had it won the 2018 Newbery Medal, I wouldn't complain; I rate the book at least two and a half stars, maybe the full three. If you like a good, satisfying novel, I recommend this one. You'll enjoy following Mia's story to its conclusion.
" said.

"5/5 for FRONT DESK by @kellyyanghk; thanks to @scholasticbooks for the ARC to review...all opinions are my own. I'll be sharing this with @theloudlibrarylady and @kidlitexchange next!
Mia Tang is a recent immigrant to the United States from China in the 1980s. Her parents and she manage a motel; Mia works the front ten years old. Her parents hide immigrants who need a place to stay in extra rooms in the motel, but at great personal risk. Swipe for the back to see more...
This book has rocketed into my top 5 for 2018! Mia's story is loosely based on Kelly Yang's own childhood and the connection really pays off. Mia is spunky, smart and determined...determined to get better at English, determined to help others who need it and determined to help lift her family out of poverty. I completely fell in love with her and you will, too. Mia's ability to bring people together and win over strangers is really special. FRONT DESK is full of heart! Put this on ALL the pre-order lists now and plan to read it aloud in upper elementary and lower middle classrooms, too. I would love to see this one on a future summer reading list here at DMS.
" said.

"3.75 stars. Author Kelly Yang's personal childhood experiences are portrayed in story of ten-year old, Mia Tang, whose family comes to America expecting great success, but discovers like many immigrants that life is very hard: low paying jobs nobody else wants, employers who take advantage of them in many ways, etc. Mia's parents agree to manage an Anaheim, CA hotel for Mr. Yao in return for free rent, who reneges on his $5 per room agreement in several ways. Mia works the front desk because her parents have to do the cleaning, maintenance, etc. as well as helping their Chinese friends in need. She handles herself very well, really beyond what is believable for someone her age, including catching a car thief, finding a job for a motel resident, and teaching the police a valuable lesson about racism.

Mia's experiences as an immigrant trying to find her way in a new culture, deal with injustice, prejudice and poverty are both heartbreaking and uplifting. She makes friends with the hotel "weeklies" and with one girl in school, who eventually discover they have similar lives. Yang's afterword was the best part: she attended UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School, and has done much to help others.
" said.

" I loved this book so much. Everyone should read it. Read it it your kids. Read it to your class. Read it to yourself. A much needed book. " said.


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