Part of what I love about reading children’s books as an adult is the ending. In most adult fiction, there is no guaranteed happy ending- unless of course the genre is romance, which always includes a happily ever after (if it doesn’t it isn’t a romance!) – and this is generally more realistic. But children’s literature usually, at the very least, leaves some hope at the end.
Front Desk in particular deals with some very heady issues, and what I appreciate most is how it does so in a realistic way that still leaves room for hope. It is not a rags to riches story of the American dream, but instead the all-too-common story of barely getting by. Mia Tang and her parents have been in the United States for several years and are still very much struggling. A glimmer of hope arrives in the form of the opportunity to manage motel in California. Unfortunately, the miserly owner barely allows the family enough profit to survive and is unnecessarily strict. As a student whose first language is not English, Mia has an especially hard time adjusting to middle school, where her thrift store clothes stand out compared to her peers’ new name brand ones. The motel owner’s son gives her a particularly hard time; this tension illustrates the range of immigrant experiences, even from one country: his family is also Chinese, but culturally and economically their circumstances are quite different.
Mia and her parents support a longtime resident of the motel, Hank, when he is racially profiled by the police because he is Black. This is what separates Front Desk from many of the other immigrant stories I’ve read: the author offers the experiences of other marginalized populations in America, not just immigrants, which she easily could have kept to. The Chinese Tangs didn’t have to go out of their way to help Hank, but they did, because their struggles are similar and they have the opportunity to lift each other up. It’s a good entry point to the concepts of intersectionality and solidarity, not only because it’s from a child’s perspective but because it offers some (nuanced!) hope at the end.
Front Desk is the first in a series of books. So far there are three out and another volume scheduled to drop this fall.
– Review by Erin, Middletown