Saturday, August 21, 2021

MMGM: Three Keys (Front Desk #2) by Kelly Yang

It's 1994 and life has certainly changed for Mia Tang, 11. You may recall from Front Desk, that when she was much younger, Mia and her parents had emigrated to the United States from China hoping for a better life. But, you may also recall, the degrees and work experience Mia's parents had didn't help them get jobs for which they were qualified (he is a scientist, she is an engineer). Instead, they took menial jobs, finally landing at the Calavista Motel as maintenance workers. But eventually, they buy the Calavista from the very unpleasant owner Mr. Yao, whose son is in Mia's class and who bullies her every chance he gets. But the Tang's also make good friends among the more permanent residents of the motel. Mia and Lupe Garcia, whose dad works for the Tangs, are now BFFs, and she has even made friends with Jason Yao. 

Mia is excited to begin sixth grade, hoping to improve her writing with the help of her new teacher Mrs. Welch, who clearly resents teaching in a trailer because of budget cuts, blaming it on immigrants the state has to take care of. It soon becomes clear that Mrs. Welch supports Pete Wilson for governor and Proposition 187 which would prohibit undocumented immigrants from using any state services, including health care and public schools. 

Then Lupe tells Mia that her family is undocumented, but working on getting the papers they need, and they live in fear of being deported. When Mia's first writing assignment on immigration is returned, Mrs. Welch has only given her a C, not the A or B+ she was expecting. What begin as a great new beginning for the Mia feels like it is quickly turning into more disappointment and worry.

And she's right. When Lupe's grandmother in Mexico dies, her mother decides to take a chance and return there for her funeral. When they don't hear from Mrs. Garcia for weeks, there is nothing that can be done to find out what happened without the authorities discovering they are undocumented and deporting the whole Garcia family. But when Mr. Garcia drives down to the border to find his wife, he is picked up and held by the immigration police.

On top of that, the Tang's improvements of the Calavista are finally paying off financially, but when new property manager Hank (you remember him from Book #1) writes Immigrants Welcome in big letters outside the motel, it ends up on the nightly news and investors are not happy. Now, the Tang's financial future is once again in trouble but Mia insists the sign must not be take down.

It begins to look like nothing is going to go right during Mia's sixth grade year, but this is a girl with spunk and drive, and she is not going to go down without a fight. Can she change people's minds, though, especially Mrs. Welch's, about immigrants and the unfairness of Proposition 187? Can she help bring back Mr. and Mrs. Garcia, or has she lost her best friend to politics. 

Some of the issues addressed in Three Keys are pretty heavy duty for a middle grade novel, and yet what better place to explore these issues of immigration and racism than at this moment when they are sadly still so relevant and urgent. For example, there is racial animosity directed at Hank, who is African American, but who tells Lupe "I have fear every day...But let me tell you something about fear: If you don't control it, it controls you." (pg 215) And recent immigrants like Tangs are were and are still looked down on by people like Mr. Yao, and others. 

I wouldn't say that Mia develops as much as I would say that she expands who she is, and who she is is passionate about supporting the people she cares about, and what is happening in the world as it impacts them, as well as her and her family. Her political awakening is interesting to see and I think more kids are having that kind of experience today and can really relate to her. Mia certainly embodies Hank's definition of the three keys of friendship: "You gotta listen, you gotta care, and most importantly, you gotta keep trying." (pg 245)   

I would not skip reading the Author's Note in the back matter. There is a lot of information about Proposition 187 and life in California in 1994 for immigrant adults and children and she brings it into the present so well, and includes sources. 

The next book in the Front Desk trilogy, Room to Dream (Front Desk #3), will be out on September 21, 2021 and I can't wait to see what Mia, Lupe, and Jason are up to.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an eARC gratefully received from Edelweiss+
Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, 
now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle


  1. Enjoyed this one! Mia is quite a character :)

    Hmm. A third book. I'll be keeping my eyes out for that one.

  2. I also enjoyed the continuation of Mia's story. Thanks for your thoughtful review and for featuring it on MMGM. I hadn't heard about a third book so this is great news.

  3. I still need to read this one- but I did read and enjoy Front Desk. I better get going with book 2 since book 3 is on its way out into the world. :)

  4. I really enjoyed this second book in this series. I learned so much about Proposition 187 and life back then. And I just got an ARC of Room to Dream. Can't wait to read it.

  5. This book really delves into subjects that are relevant now in society. I'm going to have get a copy of Mia's continued story. Look forward to reading it!

  6. Aargh—I had started Front Desk many years ago, and I was enjoying it, and then I put it down for some reason and never came back or reviewed it! I need to go back and finish (or re-read) it and catch up on this series, since it sounds so good and I already know Front Desk is! And I did read Yang's YA novel Parachutes, which is INCREDIBLE. Thanks so much for the great review!

  7. I really enjoyed Front Desk. Mia is a great character. I will be looking for this one. Thanks for the heads up.

  8. Avail the best dissertation writing service about Human Resource Management dissertation functions & topics with our expert writers.


Imagination Designs