Kelly Yang, Front Desk, Walker Books, August 2018, 320 pp., RRP $17.99 (pbk), ISBN
Mia’s uncle once told her that if a bowl is broken it can be put back together but it will never be the same. Water will always seep through the cracks. Was this to be a metaphor for her family’s story since immigrating from China to America? Were they now the broken bowl?
Ten year old Mia and her family are recent emigrants to America in search of a better life. Although her parents were both highly educated in China, in America they are just poor non white immigrants caught on the conveyor belt of poorly paid jobs, racism and poverty. Where was the great American dream of opportunity of which they had hoped and given up so much?
When given the chance to manage The Calivista Hotel, the Tang family believes their troubles are over. Although only ten Mia manages the front desk while her parents clean the rooms and run the hotel. Smart, resourceful and friendly, Mia makes friends with the hotel customers, particularly the weeklies like Hank, Billy Bob, Fred and Mrs Q, who soon become their adopted family: She makes flyers to put in shops and cafes, feedback cards to find out how they can improve their service, and places a tipping jar on the counter so she can save for the entrance fee to a writing competition she believes will change their lives.
But life is anything but easy and straight forward at the Calivista. The owner, Mr Yao is mean-hearted; paying Mia’s parents barely enough on which to survive. And while trying to deal with difficult or unruly customers, the Tang’s secretly hide Chinese immigrants while Mia juggles school, prejudice, improving her English and Jason, Mr Yao’s bully of a son who happens to be in Mia’s class.
In this beautifully written debut novel Kelly Yang draws on the real life experience of her own family’s struggle as immigrants. An insightful story into the lives of Chinese American immigrants in the early 1990’s as told through the eyes of its courageous protagonist Mia. The story is one of struggle, courage, hope and ultimately love.
A wonderful addition to a home or school library.
Highly recommended 8+
Reviewed by Mem Capp