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Saturday, December 29, 2018

Far-Fetched Front Desk Still An Appealing, Empowering Story for Kids

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When 10-year-old Mia Tang arrives in Anaheim, California, her head is filled with the same visions as any other kid—screaming happily on a roller coaster at Disneyland, splashing in the cool water of a hotel pool, and basking in the brilliant sunshine, warm and content.  That's not exactly what she gets when she lands at the Calivista Hotel.  For starters, she's not a guest.  She's living there because the room comes with her parents' housekeeping/hotel management jobs.  Also, the mean owner has banned employees from using the pool.  As for Anaheim being a happy, joyous place?  Apparently, that doesn't apply to Chinese immigrants whose English needs a little help.  Anaheim might be the setting for other people's dream vacations, but it's not turning out so dreamy for Mia.

Then, Mia starts working the front desk when her parents are too busy to manage that and room cleaning.  Suddenly, she has a purpose.  As she organizes the office, takes care of guests, and gets to know the hotel's permanent residents, Mia's gloom starts to dissipate.  She still has to deal with the greedy, dishonest hotel owner and his snooty son; worry over her parents' secret hiding of illegal immigrants; and deal with demanding guests; but at least she has a purpose.  Will her growing skills be enough to help her family survive in a hostile new environment?  Will she be able to keep the Calivista Hotel running?  Or will the Tangs be forced to start over once again or, worse, turned over to the authorities?  

Inspired by her own experience working at a California hotel with her immigrant parents, Kelly Yang's Front Desk is a bright, engaging book about using your talents to help people.  It's got plenty going on to keep readers engaged and wondering how everything is going to turn out.  While I enjoyed the story overall, I had trouble believing a 10-year-old would be giving as much responsibility as Mia had or that adult guests would trust a child with handling money, fielding complaints, and dealing with check-in/check-out.  I realize that Yang was an exceptionally bright 10-year-old (she entered college at 13, started Harvard Law School at 17, and graduated at 20), but still ... Mia talked and acted like no 10-year-old I've ever known.  That major suspension of disbelief tainted the book for me.  Still, Front Desk is an appealing story that young readers will find entertaining and empowering.  I didn't love it, but that's okay.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other MG books about immigrant families trying to find their way in America, although no specific titles are coming to mind.)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I borrowed a copy of Front Desk from the library at my child's elementary school.

1 comment:

  1. I have this one on my TBR. I have read a LOT of glowing reviews for it. I never have a problem suspending belief, when I am reading, so I will probably be ok with the premise.


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