Front Desk

by Kelly Yang

Hardcover, 2018





Arthur A. Levine Books (2018), 304 pages


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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member foggidawn
Mia’s parents have struggled to find work in America ever since they got off the plane from China. When they find a job as motel managers, it seems like an amazing stroke of luck: they can live in the motel rent-free and make good money if they can bring in enough customers. Mia is excited (though also a little scared) to help watch the front desk while her parents clean the rooms. But when the motel owner proves to be stingy and racist, Mia tries to come up with a better solution for her family. She helps some friends along the way, but will her struggles to better her own situation pay off?

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.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Salsabrarian
Young readers will be highly intrigued by Mia Tang's story of living at and working the front desk of a motel but the book goes so much further than that. The theme of social justice runs thick throughout but in a way that kids will empathize with and hopefully better understand and/or recognize in their own lives. There is the challenge of living in America as an immigrant, of being black, of being poor, of trying to succeed and beat the odds. Author Yang does an excellent job giving voice to the voiceless, in particular that of the struggling immigrant. An important and entertaining book, Hollywood happy ending notwithstanding.… (more)
LibraryThing member kmjanek
Front Desk by Kelly Yang

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.
… (more)
LibraryThing member lindamamak
Mia and her parents are Chinese immigrants who finally find work managing a motel. The owner abuses them in order to get cheap labor. Meanwhile Mia stuggles at school with finding her strength through her writing and her new friends.
LibraryThing member agrudzien
Mia and her parents have been in America for almost two years, but they still feel like they are brand new - and still don't have any money. They think it is a dream come true when Mr. Yao offers them a free room to take care of his motel...and $5 per customer! What he doesn't tell them is that it only counts for the customers after the first ten and the weeklies don't count either. How are Mia and her family supposed to survive with that kind of pay? Mia knows she has to do something and so she puts her writing to good use in more ways than one.

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.
… (more)
LibraryThing member mjspear
Chinese immigrant Mia Tang is a plucky, smart beyond her years, 9 years who works the "front desk" of her parents' flea-bag motel. She encounters all kinds of guests --good, bad, kind and scary. She befriends the "weeklies" (semi-permanent residents) and, increasingly, helps hide illegal immigrants as they pass through. In addition to the travails at the motel, Mia has elementary school drama: a 'boyfriend' she detests, kids who bully her, and a teacher who undercuts her confidence. Through hard work, creative thinking, and team work, Mia survives and even thrives. This is a resoundingly upbeat story with a powerful message of tolerance and acceptance.… (more)
LibraryThing member addunn3
A young immigrant girl and family manage a hotel. Well written YA.
LibraryThing member Lisa2013
For some reason I had incorrectly thought this was a graphic book. I was looking for a quick read to read alongside my other main book and many ancillary books. It’s a regular text novel but it still worked the way I’d hoped, a fast read, and a gripping read, and completely satisfying.

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 once again broke my heart and once again lifted me up, the former because I could then tell that the end of the novel seems to be fiction, the latter because so much good in the book was true and the author is now a great success.

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!
… (more)
LibraryThing member LibrarianRyan
Next to DisneyLand in Anniheim California there sits row after row of little no-tell motels. That is exactly where Mia Tang finds herself after the family takes a job as manager. But things are not as glorious as they thought they would be. Mia and her family immigrated from China two years ago and everything is not as great as they thought it would be. America was not the “land of opportunity” they thought. It was hard and tough work. Managing this hotel is no easier. Especially when the owner is a crotchety old man, who keeps changing the deal and taking more and more from Mia’s family. Mia is ever the optimist. She is going to make this opportunity work. And she is going to be the best at running the front desk that anyone has ever seen.

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.

#BBRC #MGReadersChoice
#Booked2019 #DiverseMG
#LittleLoveBingo #BuddyRead
#KillYourTBR #Cityvisited
… (more)
LibraryThing member JRlibrary
Ten year old Mia Tang is full of spirit and courage and humour. I adored her character and was pulling for her all the way through the book. Just when I thought she was going to give up, the people around her rallied and pushed her to dig a little deeper and not give up. I loved that! My favourite book of the year so far and I know it’s going to be well received by student readers. A totally awesome read which I couldn’t put down.… (more)
LibraryThing member ewyatt
Mia's family comes to America from China. They have struggled in their lives in the country. They get an opportunity to manage a hotel from a man who changes terms and doesn't pay them well. Mia has dreams, perseverance, and a strong sense of justice on her side. When she sees a contest to win a motel from a retiring couple in Vermont it becomes her dream. All the while she and her family work to protect other immigrants and build a community at the run down motel where they work.
This book inspired me and touched me.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Robinsonstef
I loved the author's note at the end of the book and seeing how much of the story came from her own life. Longer review to come.


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

304 p.; 5.75 inches


1338157795 / 9781338157796


Page: 0.2758 seconds