Review: Front Desk

front-deskBook: Front Desk (2018)
Author: Kelly Yank
Genre: MG, Near-Historical (1990s)
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Basic Plot: Mia is determined to help her parents, recent immigrants from China, and they run the Calivista Motel in California. But with a boss like Mr. Yao, it’s not easy. Especially when he cheats them. And comes an opportunity of a lifetime… to own the motel in their own right. But it’s not going to be easy to come up the money.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Mia. What a go-getter! I loved the letter-writing aspect of the story, complete with mistakes crossed out. That was a nice touch. I thought it was good how it’s all inspired by a poor grade. Does the poor grade get her down? Not Mia!

2) I loved all the friends that Mia makes… with the weeklies (especially Hank) and her friend at school: Lupe. (I love how both she and Lupe have “golden retrievers”.)

3) This book does a good job showing the real struggle immigrants have. My grandparents were immigrants and struggled to make ends meet. Reading this book brought back a lot of my grandmother’s stories–and even my dad’s stories–of being in a country where you don’t know the language… yet.

4) I loved the complications surrounding Jason, the son of Mr. Yao. Jason is your classic bully, but I’m glad there was a twist there. (I love redemption arcs for characters. I don’t think all characters need a redemption arc, but I love it when there is one.)

5) I liked the arc of her relationship with her mom. Mia wants to write. Mom wants her to study math. Friction ensues.

6) Finally, I thought Kelly Yang did a nice job with the themes of racism in the book. I like that it wasn’t just confined to one race, and that it showed how complicated this topic can be. I love how Mia stands up for Hank, and how Hank tries to help and protect Mia’s mother. There was some good imagery… of rollercoasters and bicycles. And I like how Mia wasn’t going to take those metaphors as the only way things have to be.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) At times, I had a hard time suspending disbelief. While I like the letters she wrote, there were a few that had me scratching my head. How did this letter even work?? And (**SPOILER: The fact that they are able to raise so much money to buy the motel seemed unrealistic. I know this is based on the author’s experience. So, perhaps that really is part of her story. I don’t know, but somehow it feels a little too Disney of an ending to be true.**)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4.5 Stars (out of 5) – Reading about Mia and her motel was certainly fun. But it’s more than that. There are some great themes written into this book. I highly recommend it. 🙂


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Books About Brainwashing

I find that books about brainwashing are hard to read. The type of book where the main character firmly believes that some horrible truth is actually good.

And yet, I find I’m drawn to these books.

I grew up on the stories of my own grandmother who lived in the Soviet Union. Her father and grandfather died in Stalin’s purges in the late 1930s. My grandmother made it out. And even though she was intrigued by the thought of one day going back to visit the places of her childhood, she never would actually go back. Out of fear that they would keep her there.

So, I’m fascinated by how children particularly are taught to blindly follow an ideology, without any sort of questioning. Usually it’s the first parts of these books, then, that are hard to read… because the child is so trusting. But then, as the book continues, the cracks begin to show. The child begins to see and hear things that don’t quite mesh with what they’ve been taught.

The children start to see that, maybe, there’s another way of life.

Below is a list of three Middle Grade books that deal with children who have been brainwashed. Interestingly, they are based in three distinct settings. But they all have some very common elements to them.


Breaking Stalin Nose // by Eugene Yelchin

breaking stalins noseSetting: Communist Russia under Stalin (late 1940s)

Young Zaichik is on the eve of realizing his dream of becoming a Young Pioneer. Of wearing the red scarf for Comrade Stalin himself. Of making his father (a top party member) proud to have such a son who is dedicated to the Great Communist Cause. But then, there’s a “mistake”, and his father is arrested in a night raid. However Zaichik is confident that Comrade Stalin will soon put things right. What follows is a day at school… a day that involves an accident, accusations, assemblies, and… a nose. Stalin’s nose.

A Favourite Quote from the Book

In an earlier scene, Zaichik is eating a carrot…

I take small bites of the carrot to make it last; the carrot is delicious…

When hunger gnaws inside my belly, I tell myself that a future Pioneer has to repress cravings for such unimportant matters as food. Communism is just over the horizon; soon there will be plenty of food for everyone. But still, it’s good to have something tasty to eat now and then. I wonder what it’s like in the capitalist countries. I wouldn’t be surprised if children there had never even tasted a carrot.

Breaking Stalin Nose, Chapter 3


Red Scarf Girl // by Ji-li Jiang

Red-Scarf-Girl.jpgSetting: Communist China under Mao (1960s)

Ji-li is 12 years old when the Cultural Revolution hits China in 1966. She’s a staunch supporter of Chairman Mao. What she doesn’t know is that her family has a “black” past. Her dead grandfather was… horrors!… a landlord. Her father is taken to confess, and the family is constantly under the threat of persecution from the Red Guard. But through it all, Ji-li remains loyal to Chairman Mao and her greatest desire is to help move China forward in the great Communist experiment.

A Favourite Quote from the Book

In this scene, Ji-li and her friends watch as two men are struggling to remove a sign from a local grocery store. The reason? The store is called the Great Prosperity Market. But that name is considered to be “Four Olds”…

Our beloved Chairman Mao had started the Cultural Revolution in May. Every day since then on the radio we heard about the need to end the evil and pernicious influences of the “Four Olds”: old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits…

The Great Prosperity Market sign is finally toppled to the ground.

Everyone cheered. People rushed forward to stamp on what remained of the sign. An Yi and I had found a few classmates in the crowd, and we all embraced, jumped, and shouted. Although what we had smashed was no more than a piece of wood, we felt we had won a victory in a real battle.

Red Scarf Girl, “Destroy the Four Olds”


The Giver // by Lois Lowry

giverSetting: Some “Utopian” Future

Jonas lives in a utopian Community, one that dictates the lives of each of its citizens. Jonas turns twelve, and receives his life assignment. He is to be the New Receiver of Memories. He is introduced to the Giver and starts his apprenticeship. And this is when Jonas begins to realize that there are truths hiding in this perfect world… where sameness is celebrated to the point where these people can’t even see colour. Jonas, like everybody else, does not question the ways of the community… at least not until his eyes are opened by his time with the Giver.

A Favourite Quote from the Book

In this scene, the Giver has just given Jonas his favourite memory… A scene of a family around a Christmas tree. A family that includes “grandparents”, a concept that is foreign to Jonas. (There are no grandparents in the Community.) The Giver then explains to Jonas that the emotion in the memory was the feeling of love.

Jonas nodded. “I liked the feeling of love,” he confessed. He glanced nervously at the speaker on the wall, reassuring himself that no one was listening. “I wish we still had that,” he whispered. “Of course,” he added quickly, “I do understand that it wouldn’t work very well. And that it’s much better to be organized the way we are now. I can see that it was a dangerous way to live.

The Giver, Chapter 16


Have you read these books? Do you like to read these types of books? Are there any other titles you could add to these three?