When Mia Yang’s parents decided to immigrate from China to the United States, they were convinced it was because they would have endless economic opportunities and would be free to pursue their dreams. Friends and colleagues had written home about their success and sent money to family members in China. This was the opportunity of a lifetime. What they realized when they got settled in the United States was that, instead, it might just be that the opportunity would take a lifetime to be achieved. Pursuing dreams in the United States often comes with a price tag.
At the beginning of Front Desk, by Kelly Yang, Mia’s parents are working in restaurants in California and their family is living out of their car. When they are finally able to move into an apartment, rent is the equivalent of her father’s salary. So free room and board in exchange for managing the Calavista Motel sounds like the answer to their prayers. However, unjust management practices cause endless problems for the family.
Mia is a wise, funny character who refuses to allow what is now to stand in the way of what should be. She is strong and stands up for her family, but she is equally dedicated to the rights of others. When Mia sees injustice, she refuses to remain silent, even when she knows she might be negatively impacted. If more individuals, children and adults, had Mia’s vision and respect for others, the world would be a very different place.
Kelly Yang has created a character who is equally compelling when she is playing Monopoly with the weekly guests as she is when standing up to racism. Her voice and personality will appeal to readers in late elementary and middle school. Luckily, we can look forward to another book about Mia coming out in September 2020. I hope that her voice will ring out in many books over the years to come.
Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:
Identity 3: I know that all my group identities are part of who I am, but none of them fully describes me and this is true for other people too.
Identity 5: I know my family and I do things the same as and different from other people and groups, and I know how to use what I learn from home, school and other places that matter to me.
Diversity 7: I like knowing people who are like me and different from me, and I treat each person with respect.
Justice 11: I try and get to know people as individuals because I know it is unfair to think all people in a shared identity group are the same.
Action 17: I know it’s important for me to stand up for myself and for others, and I know how to get help if I need ideas on how to do this.
Common Core Standards:
RL.2- Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.
RL.3- Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact).
RL.6- Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point of view influences how events are described.