So you read Kelly Yang’s book and loved it — now you’re on the hunt for books like Front Desk? Welcome!
Recommending readalikes can be a tricky process, but as I said in the first post in this series, I enjoy the process of finding similar threads running through even books that appear different on the surface. Today’s pick is Kelly Yang’s Front Desk, a bestselling book about an immigrant Chinese girl who often mans the front desk at the motel where her parents work. Mia is also passionate about writing and achieves several seemingly impossible goals throughout the story.
Front Desk is the first in a series of three books. The next two books are Three Keys and Room to Dream, which are definitely books to read if you loved Front Desk.
Here’s my readalike criterion: Each book I recommend must have at least three strong similarities with the beloved title. For this post, I’ve included books featuring strong female (and one male) protagonists immigrating from a foreign country, with a creative passion, and finding new friends and a sense of belonging, while advocating for an issue close to their hearts.
9 Books Like Front Desk
Here are 9 books like Front Desk:
Published: October 27, 2020
Twelve-year-old Cici has just moved from Taiwan to Seattle, and the only thing she wants more than to fit in at her new school is to celebrate her grandmother, A-má’s, seventieth birthday together.
Since she can’t go to A-má, Cici cooks up a plan to bring A-má to her by winning the grand prize in a kids’ cooking contest to pay for A-má’s plane ticket! There’s just one problem: Cici only knows how to cook Taiwanese food.
And after her pickled cucumber debacle at lunch, she’s determined to channel her inner Julia Child. Can Cici find a winning recipe to reunite with A-má, a way to fit in with her new friends, and somehow find herself too?
It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel
Published: May 3, 2016
Zomorod (Cindy) Yousefzadeh is the new kid on the block . . . for the fourth time. California’s Newport Beach is her family’s latest perch, and she’s determined to shuck her brainy loner persona and start afresh with a new Brady Bunch name—Cindy. It’s the late 1970s, and fitting in becomes more difficult as Iran makes U.S. headlines with protests, revolution, and finally the taking of American hostages. Even mood rings and puka shell necklaces can’t distract Cindy from the anti-Iran sentiments that creep way too close to home. A poignant yet lighthearted middle grade debut from the author of the best-selling Funny in Farsi.
Other Word for Home
Published: May 28, 2019
Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives.
At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the US—and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before.
But this life also brings unexpected surprises—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.
Published: May 11, 2021
When her family moves from Pakistan to Peachtree City, all Nurah wants is to blend in, yet she stands out for all the wrong reasons. Nurah’s accent, floral-print kurtas, and tea-colored skin make her feel excluded, until she meets Stahr at swimming tryouts.
And in the water Nurah doesn’t want to blend in. She wants to win medals like her star athlete brother, Owais—who is going through struggles of his own in the U.S. Yet when sibling rivalry gets in the way, she makes a split-second decision of betrayal that changes their fates.
Ultimately Nurah slowly gains confidence in the form of strong swimming arms, and also gains the courage to stand up to bullies, fight for what she believes in, and find her place.
Lety Out Loud
Published: February 26, 2019
Can Lety find her voice before it’s too late?Lety Muñoz’s first language is Spanish, and she likes to take her time putting her words together. She loves volunteering at the Furry Friends Animal Shelter because the dogs and cats there don’t care if she can’t always find the right word.When the shelter needs a volunteer to write animal profiles, Lety jumps at the chance.
But grumpy classmate Hunter also wants to write profiles — so now they have to work as a team. Hunter’s not much of a team player, though. He devises a secret competition to decide who will be the official shelter scribe. Whoever helps get their animals adopted the fastest wins. The loser scoops dog food.Lety reluctantly agrees, but she’s worried that if the shelter finds out about the contest, they’ll kick her out of the volunteer program. Then she’ll never be able to adopt Spike, her favorite dog at the shelter!A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2019A New York Public Library Best Book of 2019A 2020 Pura Belpré Honor Award Book
Indian No More
Published: December 10, 2019
Regina Petit’s family has always been Umpqua, and living on the Grand Ronde reservation is all ten-year-old Regina has ever known. Her biggest worry is that Sasquatch may actually exist out in the forest. But when the federal government signs a bill into law that says Regina’s tribe no longer exists, Regina becomes “Indian no more” overnight–even though she was given a number by the Bureau of Indian Affairs that counted her as Indian, even though she lives with her tribe and practices tribal customs, and even though her ancestors were Indian for countless generations.
With no good jobs available in Oregon, Regina’s father signs the family up for the Indian Relocation program and moves them to Los Angeles. Regina finds a whole new world in her neighborhood on 58th Place. She’s never met kids of other races, and they’ve never met a real Indian. For the first time in her life, Regina comes face to face with the viciousness of racism, personally and toward her new friends.
Meanwhile, her father believes that if he works hard, their family will be treated just like white Americans. But it’s not that easy. It’s 1957 during the Civil Rights Era. The family struggles without their tribal community and land. At least Regina has her grandmother, Chich, and her stories. At least they are all together.
In this moving middle-grade novel drawing upon Umpqua author Charlene Willing McManis’s own tribal history, Regina must find out: Who is Regina Petit? Is she Indian? Is she American? And will she and her family ever be okay?
Pie in the Sky
Published: May 14, 2019
When Jingwen moves to a new country, he feels like he’s landed on Mars. School is torture, making friends is impossible since he doesn’t speak English, and he’s often stuck looking after his (extremely irritating) little brother, Yanghao.
To distract himself from the loneliness, Jingwen daydreams about making all the cakes on the menu of Pie in the Sky, the bakery his father had planned to open before he unexpectedly passed away. The only problem is his mother has laid down one major rule: the brothers are not to use the oven while she’s at work. As Jingwen and Yanghao bake elaborate cakes, they’ll have to cook up elaborate excuses to keep the cake making a secret from Mama.
The Turtle of Oman
Published: August 26, 2014
This accessible, exquisite novel shines with gentle humor and explores themes of moving, family, nature, and immigration. It tells the story of Aref Al-Amri, who must say good-bye to everything and everyone he loves in his hometown of Muscat, Oman, as his family prepares to move to Ann Arbor, Michigan. This is acclaimed poet and National Book Award Finalist Naomi Shihab Nye’s first novel set in the Middle East since her acclaimed Habibi.
Aref Al-Amri does not want to leave Oman. He does not want to leave his elementary school, his friends, or his beloved grandfather, Siddi. He does not want to live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where his parents will go to graduate school. His mother is desperate for him to pack his suitcase, but he refuses. Finally, she calls Siddi for help. But rather than pack, Aref and Siddi go on a series of adventures. They visit the camp of a thousand stars deep in the desert, they sleep on Siddi’s roof, they fish in the Gulf of Oman and dream about going to India, and they travel to the nature reserve to watch the sea turtles. At each stop, Siddi finds a small stone that he later slips into Aref’s suitcase—mementos of home.
Naomi Shihab Nye’s warmth, attention to detail, and belief in the power of empathy and connection shines from every page. Features black-and-white spot art and decorations by Betsy Peterschmidt.
Published: October 19, 2021
Lilico’s life in Japan is going well. She has great friends and is the captain of the school’s basketball team. She’s happy!
Then comes her parents’ news: they’re moving to America! Before she knows it, Lilico finds herself in Brooklyn, New York, forced to start all over. And that won’t be easy with her closest friends thousands of miles away or a school bully who immediately dislikes her.
Luckily, anime-loving Nala and Henry eventually befriend Lilico and with help from them―along with her guardian spirit who looks a lot like her cat, Nico―Lilico just might figure out where she fits in.
Which of these books have you read and enjoyed? I’m looking forward to reading the third book in the Front Desk series!
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