Room to Dream by Kelly Yang. Scholastic Press, 2021. 9781338621129
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5
Format: Uncorrected proof
Genre: Historical fiction
What did you like about the book? Mia Tang is back for a third installment of the excellent Front Desk series. Mia and her friends are now 7th graders and a lot of things are changing. Lupe is taking accelerated classes at the high school, which leaves her with little time for Mia or for working at the Calivista Motel with her. Jason is pursuing his passion for cooking, working on anger management, and still harboring a crush on Mia. It has been five years since Mia and her parents left China for California, and they are excited to be returning to China for a visit with Mia’s grandparents and other extended family. They spend 6 weeks in Beijing, marveling at how much has changed since they left – modernized buildings and businesses are replacing traditional Chinese culture as well as creating a bigger gap between economic classes. Mia has a hard time fitting in back in her homeland, until a chance to write a column in a Chinese newspaper for children allows her to build a bridge between her new American identity and her Chinese heritage. She writes about her relationships with her friends: her worry about an unwanted kiss from Jason, and concerns about drifting apart from Lupe. The column is really popular in China, but leads to trouble back home when her friends read what she wrote.
Upon return to Anaheim, Mia becomes painfully aware that the modernization that has brought so much change in China is also taking place at home. Chain stores and large conglomerates are buying up city properties, replacing mom-and-pop shops with fast food restaurants and, most significantly for the Tangs, big hotels. When the Calivista’s investors receive an offer on the motel, which would leave Mia’s family and friends homeless and unemployed, Mia uses her talent as a writer and an organizer to come up with a creative solution.
Front Desk fans have been anxiously awaiting Room to Dream, and it does not disappoint. Kelly Yang seamlessly weaves together typical middle school friendship struggles, family dynamics, immigrant experiences, and socio-economic concerns into one heartwarming and honest narrative, based in part on her own childhood. Young readers who have come to love Mia will also love meeting her family in China and watching her stand up yet again to fight against injustice. An author’s note provides background information about Yang’s own trip to China at age 11, and she includes some of the columns she wrote at the time.
Anything you did not like about the book? No!
To whom would you recommend this book? It’s a must-read for all who have read the first two books; fans of authors like Erin Entrada Kelly, Hena Khan, Supriya Kelkar, or Debbie Michiko Florence, and readers who gravitate toward middle school friendship stories, historical fiction set in the recent past, and books with social justice themes will all want to visit the Calivista Motel.
Who should buy this book? Public, elementary, and middle school libraries
Where would you shelve it? Fiction
Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? If you’ve read Front Desk and Three Keys, you already know you should!
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts
Date of review: September 27, 2021