Kelly Yang

Front Desk

  • 41-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 67 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a professional writer with a PhD
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Front Desk Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 41-page guide for “Front Desk” by Kelly Yang includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 67 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Exclusion and Inclusion and Immigrant Exploitation.

Front Desk is the debut novel of Asian-American author Kelly Yang. First published in 2018, the children’s book became a New York Times bestseller and was mentioned on multiple Best Books of the Year lists including NPR, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, the Washington Post, Amazon, School Library Journal, the New York Public Library, and the Chicago Public Library. Front Desk also made ALA’s Booklist of the Top Ten Debut Novels of 2018. It won the 2019 Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature as well as the Parents’ Choice Gold Medal Fiction Award.

The story takes place at a motel in Anaheim, California during the 1990s and is narrated in first-person by Mia Yang, a 10-year-old Chinese immigrant. The work is semi-autobiographical because the author grew up under conditions almost identical to those of her protagonist. The tone of the novel is light and often humorous, though Mia also learns some painful lessons about injustice in America. As Mia recounts her family’s struggle to manage a motel while adjusting to life in their adopted country, the novel explores the themes of immigrant exploitation, the exclusion caused by racial intolerance and financial hardship, and the way in which persistence can overcome resistance in realizing one’s dreams.

Plot Summary

Ten-year-old Mia and her parents have fled communist China in the early 1990s, hoping to create a better life for themselves in America. Unfortunately, their expectations don’t align with the reality of the immigrant experience. Although Mia’s parents are highly skilled professionals, they are forced to take menial jobs for pay that never allows them to rise above the poverty line. They have been reduced to living in their car when they receive a job offer to manage a motel in Anaheim that comes with free lodging for the family.

The Tangs believe this opportunity is a dream come true until they meet the miserly owner, Mr. Yao, and his rude son Jason Yao. The salary Yao initially promised to the Tangs is eroded by one deduction after another, and Yao docks their pay for all sorts of arbitrary expenses. Because there is no housekeeping staff, Mia’s parents work all day to clean the motel units and wash linens. Mia tries to help by taking over the duty of watching the office. She soon becomes quite proficient at managing all the front desk tasks.

Mia believes the only way for her family to rise above their grinding poverty is to purchase a motel of their own. She hopes to win one by entering an essay contest where the grand prize is a free motel in Vermont. Mia’s mother takes a dim view of her daughter’s interest in becoming a writer. Mrs. Tang says Mia can never hope to master the English language the way a native speaker can. Bit by bit, Mia improves her skills until she’s writing correspondence that changes people’s lives. She doesn’t win the essay contest, but through sheer persistence, Mia finds another way for her parents to buy a motel and fulfill the dreams of hundreds of other poor people who also want to own a piece of the American dream.

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Chapters 1-12