Front Desk

Front Desk

Four starred reviews!

* "Many readers will recognize themselves or their neighbors in these pages." -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.

Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.

Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they've been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.

Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?

It will take all of Mia's courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?--from the pubisher

304 pages      978-1338157796      Ages 9-12


It's the early 1990s, and Mia and her parents have moved to California from China in search of more freedom and opportunities. Unfortunately, they are not able to get the same sort of professional jobs they had in China, and work at a Chinese restaurant until Mia's help turns disastrous! They eventually find a hotel in Anaheim in need of managers, and are happy that they won't have to pay all of their salary for rent. The owner, Mr. Yao, promises them a certain rate per customer, but ends up not treating them very fairly. This makes things even harder for Mia. Not only is she helping to run the front desk while her parents spend a lot of time cleaning, she has to be in class with Jason Yao. Mia struggles a bit in school, although her English is very good. She has some trouble getting along with the other students, who are not very kind about the clothes she wears or her immigrant status, but she does find a friend in Lupe, whose father comes to repair something at the hotel. Both girls have told some white lies about their lives, knowing that other students might not understand how difficult their lives can be. Word gets out that Mia's parents occasionally will put up other Chinese immigrants at the hotel for free, so there is a steady stream of people in need of a helping hand. Mia also gets to know the "weekly" residents, including Hank. When a car is stolen from the hotel, the police look suspiciously at Hank, who is black, and when Hank later runs down criminals who beat up Mia's mother, he ends up in jail. Mia doesn't think this is fair at all, and uses her writing skills to try to improve his situation. She also uses these skills to try to win a hotel in Vermont in an essay contest. She even manages to gather a lot of money to enter, although her mother's hospital visit after being beat up threatens to be very expensive. Mia learns that while her hard work doesn't always pay off, it gets her and her family much closer to their goals of being comfortable US citizens, and also helps those around her. Strengths: This had a lot of very well placed elements going for it. First, it is an #ownvoices book, and Yang has drawn on her own experiences. She mentions in a forward that her early days in the US were very difficult, and she wanted to share this with her son without writing a depressing book. She succeeded admirably. While the difficulties on Mia's life are very apparent, Mia, her parents, and the other people with whom Mia interacts all try very hard to do their best and to help others who need it. This makes the book realistic but upbeat. Young readers who do not understand the difficulties of immigrant life will definitely understand them after reading this book, but because Mia is such a likable character, they will hopefully use this understanding to be nicer to people in their own lives. The incident with Mia having to wear flowered stretch pants instead of jeans was heart breaking to read as an adult, and I hope that it will help readers be more aware of the difficulties their own classmates may face. Weaknesses: As an adult, my heart broke for Mia again and again. What I really think: This is an essential purchase for elementary and middle schools alike, and will be enjoyed by readers who may not understand how powerful the book is. I do think it will help readers to be empathetic, and we certainly need more of that!

This is a great book to read along with Sonnenblick's The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade, because of the kindness it teaches. The school principal in that book has a quote up on his wall: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." Too bad that even adults have trouble with this concept.

Recommended by: Karen Yingling, Library Media Specialist, Ohio USA

See more of her recommendations:


Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.  She lives in a motel, not a house.  Every day her parents clean the motel rooms while ten year-old Mia manages the front desk.

They are a family of Chinese immigrants and word has spread through the Chinese community up and down the coast of California that if you need help, the people at this motel is the place.

The motel owner, Mr. Yao, is a money-grubbing tyrant who squeezes Mia's family for all they have to give.  One bright spot in Mia's life is a Latina girl in her class.  The two girls start out trying to pretend they are like everyone else and end up becoming great friends when they show their truths to each other.

This is a story about immigrants, kindness and those who try to keep them from success.

Recommended by:  A


When Mia and her parents left China and immigrated to the United States, they believed they would live in a house with a dog and eat big juicy hamburgers whenever they wanted.  They never dreamed they would get fired from restaurant jobs and find themselves desperate enough that they would agree to manage a motel for Mr. Ho,  a cruel, arrogant man who cheats them every chance he gets.

And Mia didn't expect to find herself in the same class at school with a boy named Jason who happens to be the son of that arrogant cheat, her parents' boss.   School offers Mia a chance to make a real friend who doesn't live the life of her dreams either.  Mia watches her parents at the motel and wonders if their dream will ever come true.

This is a story of kindness, generosity, compassion, empathy, diversity, friendship and the opposites of all of those fine qualities.  It's a story of immigrants helping immigrants and what their struggles look like.  It's also a story of risking, of seizing opportunity, of believing in yourself and your dreams and never giving up told with a tone of hopefulness and warmth and the beautiful resilience of the human spirit.

Recommended by:  Barb Langridge,

User reviews

1 review
5/5 Stars. I gave this a book 5 stars because it is a book that is really interesting. Almost everything possible that can go wrong for Mia, does. She is a role model because she never gives up and is always positive. She is clever, and can think her way out of any situation. Every character in the book is so realistic, that you can relate to it. I feel the characters emotions, as if I were in the book. Front Desk shines a light on friendship, empathy, and kindness. This book is engaging, inspiring and I would change nothing about it. It is overall a great book; this is my second time reading it. After every book I’ve ever read, Front Desk is definitely at the top.
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