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Mia Tang thought life would be awesome once her family moved from China to the United States: Disneyland, hamburgers, and a house! But actually, life in the United States isn’t that great. However hard her parents work, they struggle to find and keep jobs. They can’t afford hamburgers every day. But their luck seems to change when Mr. Yao hires them to work at the Calivista Motel! And the job even comes with a place to live! But it turns out life at the Calivista isn’t easy. Mr. Yao is mean, greedy, and racist, the work is hard, and Mia is ashamed that her family doesn’t live in a house. But on the bright side, Mia loves working the front desk and gets along well with the long-term motel residents. She also makes a new friend, Lupe. And when Mr. Yao announces his plan to sell the Calivista, Mia, her parents, and all the people they’ve befriended work together to figure out how to keep their home and newfound family together.
1. At the beginning of Front Desk, Mia’s mom says their family came from China to America “because it’s freer here.” (p. 4) What examples from the book support this statement? What examples from the book suggest otherwise?
2. Mr. Yao says his son “speaks good English” because he was born in the United States. (p. 6) What does it mean to speak “good English” and why is it important to Mr. Yao? Why might being born in a country impact someone’s ability to speak that country’s language? What are other ways someone could learn a language? What are some benefits of understanding multiple languages?How would you interact with someone whose level of fluency was different from yours?
3. Mr. Yao tells Mia’s parents that they could tell who were “bad guys” by “how they look.” (p. 10) How would you respond to someone who judged you based on your appearance?
4. Mia’s parents celebrate their first day at the motel by stewing tea they had brought from China. What are some special foods from your culture that your family enjoys? What foods do you enjoy for celebrations and on holidays? What makes these foods and traditions important?
5. Mr. Yao says a good employee “knows their place.” (p. 62) What does he mean? What does Mia think about this? What are some characteristics that make a good employee? In what ways are Mia and her parents good employees?
6. Mia, her parents, their fellow immigrant friends, and Hank experience a lot of unfair treatment. At one point Mia’s mom says “we’re immigrants . . . our lives are never fair.” (p. 68) In what ways are Hank, Mia’s family, and other immigrants treated differently, and why? What does Mia think about this? What do you think? How should people who receive—or see other people receive—unfair treatment respond?
7. Mia and her dad discuss the value of a penny that was printed with a mistake. He says, “A mistake isn’t always a mistake . . . Sometimes a mistake is actually an opportunity.” (p. 76) What does this mean? Can you think of any of your own experiences that you thought were mistakes but were actually opportunities?
8. Mia and Lupe discuss how some people are mean to them because they are both “brown” and “poor.” (p. 81) Being both “brown” and “poor” is an example of intersectionality, which is when different social categories intersect to impact someone’s experiences, often in a negative way. What are other examples of how race, gender, economic
status, or other characteristics intersect to negatively impact someone’s life in Front Desk?
9. Lupe explains to Mia that Americans are riding two different roller coasters, “one for rich people and one for poor people.” (p. 81) What are some examples from the text that illustrate Lupe’s statement?
What would need to change in order for all Americans to “ride” the same “roller coaster”?
10. After Mr. Lorenz reports that his car was stolen, the police officers who visit Calivista take Hank aside to ask him additional questions. Hank later tells Mia, “This kind of thing happens to me . . . to all Black people in this country.” (p. 100) What are some other examples of discriminatory treatment of Black people in Front Desk?
11. Mia’s parents and some of the other immigrant Chinese characters had held more professional jobs that demonstrated their education when they were in China, but they work very different jobs upon moving to the United States. What examples from the book show why they continued to live in the United States despite their significant career shifts?
12. Mia wants to become a writer, but her mother thinks it’s more practical to be good at math. Why does Mia’s mother think it’s
important for Mia to be good at math? How does Mia react to her mother’s comments? How would you react?
13. Mia writes a lot of letters to different people. Why does she write to each person? What does she accomplish with each letter?
14. Jason and Mia do not get along the first few months they know each other. How do they change throughout the book? What is their relationship like by the end of the book?
Kelly Yang is the author of Front Desk, which won the 2019 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature and was chosen as a Best Book of the Year by multiple publications, including NPR, the Washington Post, and the New York Public Library. Kelly’s family immigrated to the United States from China when she was a young girl, and she grew up in California managing the front desks of three different motels when she was 8-12 years old while her parents cleaned the room. She eventually left the motels and went to college at the age of 13, and is a graduate of UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School. She is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, a leading writing and debating program for children in Asia and the United States. Her writing has been published in the South China Morning Post, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Atlantic. She is also the author of the young adult novel Parachutes. To learn more about her and the Front Desk books, visit frontdeskthebook.com.