This was the September pick for one of my book clubs, and it was fantastic! It’s a middle grade novel based on the author's personal experience. While it's targeted for grades 4-6, it's an excellent read for all above ages as well.
Mia Tang came with her parents to America from China in 1991, never expecting how difficult life would be in the U.S. After a few years of struggling to make ends meet, including a short stint of living in their car, the Tangs find a job opportunity to manage a small motel. Shortly after they take the job, they begin to realize the owner is exploiting their labor. Yet, with no better prospects, no health insurance, and limited financial options, they are forced to continue managing the hotel, working all hours to decreasing pay; backbreaking work that leaves them depleted and sleep deprived every day.
In an effort to help her parents, ten-year old Mia mans the front desk where she quickly befriends the weeklies (weekly tenants), who help the Tangs get the lay of the land, and learn how to avoid displeasing the landlord, everyone banding together in a camaraderie of sorts, looking out for each other in order to survive.
The story tackles many heavy issues; assault, bullying, racism, and how Mia responds to each in real time as a 10-year old might. As you read, you become more invested in Mia’s journey and the warm cast of supporting characters and are rooting for them to prevail. My wish is that kids and adults alike would read this book. While reading a book like Front Desk is no substitute for what it truly feels like to be an immigrant in America or understand the immigrant experience, it's a way for a reader to connect and empathize with Mia, hopefully tearing down any assumptions, stereotypes, or implicit bias, and begin to grasp a slight understanding of a life different that their own.