Header Image

Double Middle Grade Review: Front Desk and Three Keys by Kelly Yang

Title: Front Desk, Three Keys

Author: Kelly Yang

Year Published: 2018, 2020

Category: Middle grade fiction
Pages: 286 and 288
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2021 Google Reading map)USA (CA)

Summary for Front Desk (from Amazon): 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?

Summary for Three Keys (from Amazon): The story of Mia and her family and friends at the Calivista Motel continues in this powerful, hilarious, and resonant sequel to the award-winning novel Front Desk.

Mia Tang thinks she's going to have the best year ever. She and her parents are the proud owners of the Calivista Motel, Mia gets to run the front desk with her best friend, Lupe, and she's finally getting somewhere with her writing!But as it turns out, sixth grade is no picnic...1. Mia's new teacher doesn't think her writing is all that great. And her entire class finds out she lives and works in a motel! 2. The motel is struggling, and Mia has to answer to the Calivista's many, many worried investors.3. A new immigration law is looming and if it passes, it will threaten everything -- and everyone -- in Mia's life.It's a roller coaster of challenges, and Mia needs all of her determination to hang on tight. But if anyone can find the key to getting through turbulent times, it's Mia Tang!

Review: I was working with some upper elementary teachers on social justice lessons this week and one of them mentioned that her 6th graders are currently reading the Front Desk series and loving it. I heard about the first book in the series when it first came out and won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. I meant to read it and got distracted then somehow missed that there are now 3 books in the series. So, I borrowed a copy of the first two novels; this review covers both novels.

Front Desk is really good. In it, we get to know Mia, her parents, their immigration story, and what it is like to live in poverty. I enjoyed all the secondary characters, from her friend Lupe and frenemy Jason to the "weeklies" who live at the hotel. They each bring a necessary element to the story that rounds out the experience of those who live in the edge in America. But, despite their lack of money and resources, the sense of family and belonging is strong.

As much as I enjoyed Front Desk, I thought Three Keys was even better and more powerful. Yang placed the story in 1990s California during the election for Governor when Pete Wilson was running and Prop 187 was on the ballot. It was a really tough time in California as sentiments toward immigrants, anyone brown, and certainly the undocumented were at an all-time high. Yang captured these tensions really well.

These books have something in them for everyone and I enjoyed reading both of them.

Challenges for which this counts: 
  • Diversity--Asian American characters and author.

No comments