Front Desk, by Kelly Yang, tells the story of ten year old Mia, a Chinese immigrant who helps her parents manage a motel. Mia's life in America is often challenging. She supports her family by helping at the motel, while being at the whim of the cruel motel owner Mr. Yao. At school, she faces stereotypes held by her classmates and aspires to improve her writing skills in her second language. Her family struggles to make ends meet, in a precarious position despite their hardwork. Nevertheless, Mia responds to these challenges with optimism. She has an indomitable spirit and is always willing to dream big and find solutions to problems.
Front Desk is a book that provides both a mirror and window into the life Asian immigrants. (Thanks to Rudine Sims Bishop for creating the idea of mirrors versus windows in literature). For students who are immigrants, it offers a story that reflects their experiences adjusting to a new country. For students who are not immigrants, it provides important insights into the challenges immigrants face. I particularly like how the author used Mia's position as an newcomer in America to criticize existing prejudices and racism. Mia's family often help other Asian-American immigrants by sharing food and offering them a place to stay under the nose of Mr. Yao, who would disapprove. When these characters share their stories, we hear about the challenges and injustices many immigrants face. As well, Mia learns about anti-Black racism, voicing her opposition to it and working in her community to counter it. Mia's tireless efforts to challenge injustices and make a stronger, more caring community makes this a heartwarming read that I would recommend for upper elementary and middle year readers.