Sunday, 14 February 2021

Book Review: 'Front Desk' by Kelly Yang

'Front Desk' by Kelly Yang has already done its thing in the US, and now the excellent folk at Knights Of have brought it to the UK. As such it's already been reviewed plenty of times and has racked up 18,000 ratings on goodreads.com, averaging at 4.41 - all entirely deserved.

'Front Desk', a middle grade novel based partially on the author's own real life experiences as a child pairs the scariness of the immigrant experience with the optimism of a child. In parts the events are very bleak as systemic inequalities are exposed, albeit through the eyes of a young teenager who still has the power to hope for more. Indeed, Mia does more than just hope and this is a story of proactivity and camaraderie, one which celebrates the power and necessity of diversity.

Despite gut-punch moments - when Mia's parents receive the hospital bill after her mum is robbed and beaten, for example - 'Front Desk' is a joyful story, the reader always buoyed by Mia's resilience and fortitude. Her work ethic and ability to problem-solve are inspiring and, although tough to read, children will cheer Mia along through every adversity that she overcomes.

It is true, however, that some of Mia's solutions rely on dishonesty, and this should be discussed openly with young readers of the book. But, more important should be conversations around the harsh treatment of migrant workers, not only in the US but in the UK also. As well as an enjoyable read, this book could also serve as a call to action for children to find out more about the difficulties that people face when they move to a new country in search of employment. Mia and her family, as well as the 'weeklies' (the almost permanent residents of the motel), put a human face to the issue which will help children to understand and empathise with people in a similar position to that of Mia's family.

'Front Desk' is also a loud celebration of how working together, regardless of ethnicity, financial circumstances or age, should be, could be, the driving force behind society. In a world where so much of the media seems to be divisive and reductive in its messaging, it is a breath of fresh air to read something that gets it so right: with a little kindness, understanding and collaboration, things get done! And with a surprise ending that I didn't see coming, I'm all ready to read the next book 'Three Keys' which Knights Of have published simultaneously.

'Front Desk' is available on bookshop.org and is featured on my Stories From America booklist: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/children-s-fiction-stories-from-america

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