My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Received: Scholastic Canada
Published: May 29th, 2018
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine
Recommended Age: 8+
Genres & Themes: Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Based on True Events, Family, Friendship, Immigration
Front Desk tells the story of 10-year-old Mia Tang. Every day, Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel while her parents clean the rooms. She’s proud of her job. She loves the guests and treats them like family. When one of the guests gets into trouble with the police, it shakes Mia to her core. Her parents, meanwhile, hide immigrants in the empty rooms at night. If the mean motel owner Mr. Yao finds out, they’ll be doomed!
Anyone who looks at the cover will think that it hides a light—but perhaps still meaningful—story. It does not let on that the reader will be outraged at many of the characters and situations hidden inside.
Mia Tang’s family members are courageous and strong people, but they are immigrants who recently arrived in a completely foreign country—from China to America—and there is so much they don’t know yet. There is also so much they don’t have access to.
And the problem with being a new immigrant is that, unless you were able to transfer your fortune—should you have had one—from your native country to your adopted one or your school degrees are recognized, you have to start from basically zero.
I know this because it happened to my mom and former step-father. They worked in a couple of apartment buildings, cleaning and maintaining, for minimum wage. We were poor, no question, and lived in a crappy apartment. But thinking back now, I realize we were just fine and we had it so much better than other immigrants who couldn’t find jobs or found horrendous ones.
Like Mia’s parents, sadly. They are desperate for work, after an unfortunate accident leads both Mia and her mom to lose their jobs, and they end up working for an awful Mr. Yao who does not treat his employees with respect. In fact, he doesn’t even look at them as ‘‘people.’’ He considers himself to be above them. There is a huge amount of tension between Mia and him, for he often blames the victim and refuses to be reasonable. But Mia’s family doesn’t have another choice, and Mr. Yao knows that, so he preys upon them constantly.
He infuriated me. I wanted to jump into the page and scream at him myself. I wanted to protect Mia and her parents in any way I could—but worry not, Mia, although only ten, is immensely brave and smart. She fights for what is right and learns so much working at the motel. She also meets incredible people who prove to her that there is goodness in this world, even though ugliness may be much more obvious to the eye.
A lot of what happens in this story is actually based on real life events—the author’s life, growing up as a Chinese immigrant in a country that wasn’t too keen to have her there, or so it seemed. The truth is that people make a country, and if you have trusting people by your side, you will feel more at home each day. But you have to claim your place, too.
A terrific and emotional story that, I hope, will push you to look at immigrants with more respect and understanding, because they deserve it. We deserve it.
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