Recent immigrants from China and desperate for work and money, ten-year-old Mia Tang's parents take a job managing a rundown motel in Southern California, even though the owner, Mr. Yao is a nasty skinflint who exploits them; while her mother (who was an engineer in China) does the cleaning, Mia works the front desk and tries to cope with demanding customers and other recent immigrants--not to mention being only one of two Chinese in her fifth grade class, the other being Mr. Yao's son, Jason.
This delightful middle-grade book is based in part on the author’s own childhood experiences. She provides a helpful author’s note at the end which explains some of the challenges Chinese immigrants faced in the early 1990s, the setting for this book. Some of the fictional events come together too smoothly to be entirely believable, but I think that young readers will enjoy this story and empathize with Mia’s big feelings and even bigger plans.
After all the hype, I had to stay in middle grade territory and read this book. It did not disappoint.
Mia Tang and her family left China to have better opportunities in the early 90s. When they got to the US, it wasn’t quite the way they expected. The story started out by telling the readers that they were living out of their car and trying to find jobs where they would get paid enough to have a place to live. Then they found a motel that would allow them a place to live in exchange for their labor. Mia would get to go to a good school, but she didn’t factor in all the time she would have to help her parents work. Other students made fun of what she wore and how often she wore it (they couldn’t afford lots of new clothes). She missed her cousin back in China and you could just feel how lonely she was. There were a few characters who lived at the motel and through them Yang was masterfully able to discuss racism in a way that is accessible to middle grade readers.
Overall, it sends a message that we all need today about diversity, family, community and how much immigrants have contributed to our society. If you are a 3rd or 4th generation American, you may not remember your family stories if they were not documented. Arriving in this country with little to no money, barely any possessions and no English is a situation in which many Americans can relate to and that we should all remember. It seems to me that there are more adult books which detail the experience of giving up your education and your professional accomplishments to start over in a foreign country. The only option for work is hard labor in non-desirable jobs. This book will allow upper elementary and middle school readers to empathise with an experience like this. Yang really conveys the message that it is not easy to give up your home and start over somewhere else. With Mia’s family it was political and economic oppression that forced them to leave their home to give freedom a try in the US. I think this book is needed right now in school libraries to share the immigrant experience. This book also just won the 2019 Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature. The characters in this book are well developed, the setting is detailed and realistic so I think readers will be transported into Mia’s world. It’s such a good book that I think I will be able to convince some of my high school students to read this. This book is also a great fit for IB Schools as it really emphasizes our shared humanity and experiences.
This book was fantastic, and I loved reading at the end that this was based on a lot of the author's own experiences. I like that the "happy ending" isn't the easy one and that Mia and her family continue to work hard and be good people. I also like how she fights against discrimination and does not let the fact that she is a child or a non-native English speaker affect her fight.
But I’ve been reading too many books with too much heartbreak and showing too many of the worst flaws that some humans have. This was another, and over and over again it broke my heart, but over and over again it also gave me faith in people, made me smile, and felt uplifting. I felt the gamut of emotions. I cared so much for Mia and almost all of the characters. The characters, even most of the minor ones, are memorable. Mia’s (ten-year-old) voice is marvelous.
This is a wonderful middle grade novel. I highly recommend this to all kids 8-11 and anyone who can appreciate a novel about the meaning of family (including families made up of non-relatives) and about genuine friendships, about immigration and assimilation, about poverty, about gumption and going for one’s dreams, about doing the right thing, and it’s a great book for developing empathy for others in circumstances that might be different from those of the readers and a great book for some kids to help them feel less alone with their circumstances. It’s a terrific book for showing how much a child can do, but does stay realistic.
There is an enlightening author’s note in the back of the book that
5 full stars. It’s a standout book. I loved it. Great book for independent readers and also for reading aloud one to one and to groups.
ETA: Also a great book to read about bigotry!
This book shows the reader just how hard it is to be an immigrant, even if you are a legal immigrant. It’s not just the language barrier, but the ideal’s barrier to what you are, and what people think you are just because you choose to make a new life. The reader gets to understand Mia’s mother's frustrations, and her belief that they could never be as good at anything as everyone else because they are not “native”.
The only “off” thing, is you are never told what time period the book takes place. Knowing that this was loosely based on the author's childhood, and the price of a nights stay being $20, and my own memory of hotels like these from my childhood, I pegged the time around the mid-late 80’s. You are never really told, and it does not matter. But it can color the imaginary of the tale. As the saying goes, no two people ever read the same book.
Overall this was a lovely story, and it was recently announced that there will be a sequel.
This book inspired me and touched me.