Today Marshmallow reviews Front Desk, the 2018 book by Kelly Yang.
Marshmallow’s Quick Take: If you like reading books to learn about different people’s lives, or if you simply want to read about an immigrant girl and her life (in school and elsewhere), then this might be the book for you.
Marshmallow’s Summary (with Spoilers): Mia Tang and her family immigrated to America with dreams of a large house with a dog and lots of hamburgers.
“My parents told me that America would be this amazing place where we could live in a house with a dog, do whatever we want, and eat hamburgers till we were red in the face. So far, the only part of that we’ve achieved is the hamburger part, but I’m still holding out hope. And the hamburgers here are pretty good.”
When Mia’s parents, who had been searching for a job, find out that the Calivista Motel needs a manager, and that the job comes with free boarding, they take the job. Unfortunately, they soon learn that the owner, Mr. Yao, is a very unpleasant man. He doesn’t want them to use the pool, as it might “encourage” the customers to swim, which he claims is bad for the environment. (The real reason is that keeping the pool clean costs money.) If anything breaks, Mr. Yao has Mia’s parents pay for it. He also has a son named Jason, who tries to emulate his father’s behavior and is rude to Mia.
One of the good things about the Calivista Motel is that Mia gets to help with the managing. She works at the front desk and presses the button to let people in to the motel. When she gets this assignment, Mr. Yao tells her to make sure not to “let bad people in”. As the book progresses, we learn that Mr. Yao meant “black people” when he said bad people. However Mia and her family are a lot more open minded. Over time, Mia starts to become friends with the weeklies, people who stay in the motel long term, in a way that is almost like renting. And Mia’s parents eventually start to let immigrants stay in the Calivista Motel for free. The immigrants tell their stories to Mia and her parents. One of them is now in debt to loan sharks. Another one’s previous boss took their IDs and passports. Some of them are looking for jobs. Many of them are facing a lot of challenges in their lives.
Mia starts school, and makes friends with a girl named Lupe. Unfortunately, Mr. Yao’s son Jason is also in Mia’s class. Mia pretends that she has a house with a pool and her family has a golden retriever.
At some point, Mia finds out about a contest to win a motel. Her family is not getting a fair amount of money, so the possibility of owning her own motel seems incredible to Mia. However, the contest is an essay contest, and Mia has been having trouble with the tenses. Will she be able to win the motel?
Here is the author’s introduction to the book:
Marshmallow’s Review: I think that Front Desk is a great book. It is realistic and moving. I think that the author, Kelly Yang, did a great job of writing a book that evokes so many feelings in the reader. I have learned that the author actually based this book off of her own experiences. Maybe that is one of the reasons everything is so convincing and touching.
I also enjoyed it when, later in the book, Mia takes matters into her own hands and writes letters to people in order to change her friends’ lives for the better. She writes as the manager of the Calivista Motel, but also, once, as a lawyer (though she is of course not a lawyer). Still her writing plays an important role, throughout the book. Even though Mia enjoys English a lot at school, her mother thinks that she should stick to math: she tells her, “You know what you are in English? You’re a bicycle, and the other kids are cars.” It is good to see that her writing turns out to be so valuable in the end!
Marshmallow’s Rating: 100%.