‘Front Desk’ by Kelly Yang: Superb Middle Grade Fiction Kids (and Adults) Will Love

front desk

In her fiction-based-on-real-life novel “Front Desk,” author Kelly Yang hits every note perfectly. The main character is authentic (maybe because it’s based on Yang) and readers automatically like her. She’s far from perfect on many levels, so readers will be able to identify with her. Although the plot is not about murder or mystery, it’s really gripping.

It’s about a ten-year-old girl named Mia Tang whose mother tells her she will never be able to write, who mans the front desk of a motel so that her parents can clean rooms and wash sheets and towels, and who isn’t able to dress like the other kids in her class because her parents have no money.

Readers will hate Mr. Yao, the mean-spirited, money-grasping owner of the motel who uses any trick to not have to pay Mia’s parents what he owes them. Readers will love Hank and the other “regulars” at the motel who support Mia and become her extended family.  But most of all, readers will love Mia — courageous, smart, loyal, and above all, determined to right as many wrongs as she can in the world. She’s a warrior for justice, a role model for the adults in her life, and a true friend to her best friend Lupe. Yang’s voice shines through as Mia fights for a better life for her family, helping friends along the way.

This story should be in every classroom library and every school library. It’s a wonderful choice for a read aloud for many reasons. Mia, a struggling writer who is still learning English because she lived most of her short life in China, models how to edit writing when she writes her important letters, many of which end up changing the lives of Mia and those she loves.

Readers will feel a rollercoaster of emotion as Mia is embarrassed, beaten (metaphorically, although her mother is literally beaten), humiliated, generous, thoughtful, and ultimately (spoiler alert) victorious. It’s not a long ride, but it’s an intense one.

Seriously, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, Scholastic Books, for review purposes.

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