Through the story of fifth-grader Mia Tang, readers experience the courage, hard work, and dreams of a young Chinese immigrant.
A small room behind the office of the Calivista Motel is home for Mia and her parents. Hired by the rich, coal-hearted Mr. Yao, the family works bone-numbing hours cleaning rooms, fixing problems, and managing the front desk. Troubles check in from every direction: at home, where her mom belittles her love of writing; at school, where bullies and lies surround her; and especially at the motel, where the family battles financial ruin. Yet along the seemingly endless roller coaster of poverty, hope appears in small places. Debut author Yang weaves in autobiographical content while creating a feisty and empowered heroine. The supporting characters are rich in voice and context, with multiple villains and friends that achingly reveal life in America in the 1990s for persons of color and those living in poverty. Heavy themes, including extortion, fraud, and racism, are balanced with the naïve dreams and determination of a 10-year-old. The power of Mia’s newfound skill in English pushes her to fight for her community, which has lovingly become her adopted family in this new land. With bittersweet information on Chinese immigration to America added in an author’s note, this book captures many important themes to explore individually or in the classroom.
Many readers will recognize themselves or their neighbors in these pages. (Historical fiction. 8-12)