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Front Desk by Kelly Yang – Book Review

  • Title: Front Desk
  • Author: Kelly Yang
  • Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
  • Release Date: May 29, 2018

RATING: 4 STARS

After immigrating to the United States from China in the 1990’s, Mia Tang and her parents are trying to make their way and create a life they always dreamed about. Yet, life is not easy for the family, even after they are hired to manage a hotel in California. The hotel’s owner is nothing short of cruel, but Mia and her parents try to make the best of their situation. As Mia helps with the hotel operations and faces problem after problem, she finds her voice through writing and discovers how the power of words can affect change.

Kelly Yang’s book, Front Desk, will surely be well-loved by upper elementary and middle grade students. Mia is a strong, determined character that is not afraid to take risks and do what is right. Yang’s writing is captivating and makes for an entertaining, quick read. The quick pace is both a strength and weakness. While there are numerous conflicts and relatable characters, the author’s character development lacked meaningful depth, leading to few character changes or transformations. Yang also missed an opportunity to expand upon the struggles immigrants face in the U.S. each time the Yang family secretly hosted one at the hotel. Lastly, a clear pattern emerged through Mia’s attempt to overcome obstacles; she utilized the power of words. While this lesson is incredibly important for young readers, another incredibly important one is that a person must persevere through failure. Mia’s efforts to persuade others and affect change through writing succeeds every time, which could send unrealistic messages. Regardless, it stands as missed opportunity to show how failure can be an important learning experience too.

Overall, Front Desk would be a great novel to teach in the upper elementary grades. The Tang family’s immigration story is riveting and highlights the struggles immigrants face when starting life anew in the United States. The book also provides numerous opportunities to extend students’ learning about U.S. immigration and its history.

Classroom Applications

  • Cross-curricular Study – Teach the novel in conjunction with a nonfiction study of the history of Chinese immigration to the United States.
  • Literature Circles – Use the novel as part of a study about immigration, immigrants, and refugees.
  • Writing – Use the novel as a way to teach a unit about writing letters, op-eds, or argumentative essays.

Nonfiction Connections: The list below outlines topics that will enrich your students’ understanding of the novel.

  • History of Chinese Immigration to the U.S.
  • U.S. History of Immigration
  • Life of Immigrants in the U.S.

Book Companions: The following are great books to pair with Front Desk. In parenthesis are the specific aspects students could explore when synthesizing across the texts.

  • Refugee by Alan Gratz (Historical Connections, Character Connections, Themes)
  • Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (Themes, Character Connections)
  • Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga (Themes, Character Connections, Nonfiction Connections)

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