A sequel to the touching FRONT DESK, this novel continues the tale of an immigrant family from China who operate a motel in Anaheim, California. THREE KEYS takes off right where the first one ends and you’ll have no problem starting here if you haven’t read FRONT DESK. Mia (front and center on the cover) is now in 6th grade.

The year is 1994 and California is about to vote on Proposition 187, a ballot initiative that would deny undocumented immigrants from accessing public education and non-emergency health care along with other services we take for granted. Mia worries about her Latino friend, Lupe, and other kids who might be classified as illegals. Would they really just kick her these children out of school?

Short chapters, 62 in all, move the story along at a swift pace. The struggles for immigrants are brought forth and parallels to the present demonstrate answers have not been found. The first person narration by Mia is heartfelt and emotional. She’s not afraid to speak up for others who came across the borders even though she has the proper paperwork to be in the U.S.

The true meaning of the two words—Three Keys—is saved for the end and it had me nodding and smiling at the same time. Great as a read-aloud, Mia’s tale should elicit rich discussion about how we treat others and how true friendship comes about.

BOOK BIRTHDAY: September 15, 2020 PAGE COUNT: 288


Mia Tang thinks she’s going to have the best year ever.

She and her parents are the proud owners of the Calivista Motel, Mia gets to run the front desk with her best friend, Lupe, and she’s finally getting somewhere with her writing! But as it turns out, sixth grade is no picnic…

  1. Mia’s new teacher doesn’t think her writing is all that great. And her entire class finds out she lives and works in a motel!
  2. The motel is struggling, and Mia has to answer to the Calivista’s many, many worried investors.
  3. A new anti-immigration law is looming and if it passes, it will threaten everything—and everyone—in Mia’s life.

It’s a roller coaster of challenges, and Mia needs all of her determination to hang on tight. But if anyone can find the key to getting through turbulent times, it’s Mia Tang!


  1. You often only experience a solid character arc for the main character. Here though, you’ll find many including Mia’s two friends and her teacher. They just might help form new opinions for readers about prejudice and racism.
  2. Mia’s friend Jason likes to cook, but that type of career is not what his parents expect. It takes most of the story for him to realize he doesn’t have to be exactly like his parents. Nicely done all the way.
  3. Your family is not just who you are related to in this story. Bravo for Hank, one of the residents, whose kindly nature and willingness to listen show this over and over again. Hank is a true mentor who cares deeply about people and does it with a smile. I’d vote for him!
  4. Mia’s first person narration displays a personality we are much in need of right now. Her passion for injustices no matter your color is a bright piece throughout.
  5. The author’s update at the end about her own life and the present situation in our country was a welcome bonus to the story. The book also became my CYBILS MG FICTION nominee this year.


Kelly Yang is the author of Front Desk, which won the 2019 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature and was chosen 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


I received a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. If you have the time, please leave a comment below.

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...always striving to reach the next peak in my life and career.
This entry was posted in Middle Grade Book Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to THREE KEYS

  1. So glad you liked this so much. I already have it reserved at the library.

  2. I thought it was interesting that it was historical fiction that addressed legislation. Can’t think of another middle grade novel that centers around anything similar!

  3. K.A. Cummins says:

    It’s wonderful when even the secondary characters in a story grow and change. And the story intersects with events in our world. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I haven’t read the Front Desk, but am sorry I didn’t get to it. The sequel intrigues me, especially the historical fiction aspect regarding undocumented immigrants. Still relevant. Thanks for sharing and I must add it to my list.

  5. Sue Heavenrich says:

    I loved the Front Desk – definitely want to read this one!

  6. Danielle Hammelef says:

    Front Desk was really good, so I need to read this one too.

  7. Completely Full Bookshelf says:

    I still haven’t read Front Desk—I really need to do that! Three Keys sounds like a wonderful sequel! I like that more characters than just Mia have character arcs, and I definitely need learn more about something as awful yet lost to history as Proposition 187. Thanks for the great review!

  8. I really liked Front Desk. This sounds great too. I will check it out. Thanks for the review.

  9. Pingback: The 2020 GOLDEN CUP AWARDS | Always in the Middle…

  10. julie alber says:

    my 10 year old read Front Desk in 2 days and insisted I read it immediately. Such important lessons shown in a way that kids can understand without being afraid. We sat down the next week and read Three keys together. Can’t recommend these books more.

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