Book Review: Front Desk, by Kelly Yang

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_front_deskWhat a fascinating read this is. Mia and her family are immigrants to the US from China, and this is the story of their American dream and how against all odds they actually realised it.

Mia and her parents land what seems to be a dream job, managing a motel. However all is not as it was cracked up to be in the interview and the owner is a really mean-spirited, grasping piece of work. He is quick to impose penalties and wage reductions for perceived errors and unexpected costs, and takes every opportunity to make life really hard for the family. To make things worse, his son is in Mia’s class at school and he too is quick to make Mia’s life miserable.  Her language skills are not wonderful and she struggles with English until she finds a real friend, also the child of immigrants, and they join forces.

Mia decides, as she observes the crazy workload her parents struggle with, to take on front-desk responsibilities herself. She is only 10, but the work ethic of her parents is strongly implanted in her too. She has some problems, of course, but the depth of the story lies in how Kelly Yang brings to life the issues of discrimination, poverty, and language barriers which are known to immigrant families everywhere. She also sheds light on the Cultural Revolution in a way accessible to young readers.

Mia is a clever, thoughtful and resilient girl who – as we see often in immigrant stories – wants things to go well for her parents, and for them not to lose face among their friends and relatives both in the US and back in China. She has a gazillion ideas for improving how the front desk operates, and is able to get some of them in place. She makes friends with the “weeklies” – the people who live semi-permanently at the motel – and their willingness to help her and her family provides a good counterpoint to the owner’s attitudes and behaviour. The parents in turn are generous and welcoming to friends and acquaintances who are in need of temporary support or accommodation. All of this comes at considerable cost and stress to the whole family, as they find ways to do this without having the motel owner in the know!

The story careers along, from crisis to crisis but it works extremely well. The book is based on Kelly Yang’s own experience, and this is why it rings so true. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Front Desk
by Kelly Yang
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781760650469

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