Three Keys by Kelly Yang

Three Keys


Goodreads: Three Keys
Series: Front Desk #2
Source: Library
Published: 2020


Mia is excited for the sixth grade. But then things start to fall apart. Her new teacher isn’t giving her writing the A’s she thinks she deserves. And the hotel isn’t doing well, now that a local politician has been calling for the removal of immigrants from schools. The kids at school are saying mean things about immigrants, too. Can Mia and her friends find a way to make a difference?

Star Divider


Three Keys continues Mia’s adventures from Front Desk, which saw her help her parents buy the hotel where they had been experiencing mistreatment as employees. Just as Front Desk worked to raise awareness of how immigrants to the U. S. can experience hardship and abuse–especially if they do not have papers and are afraid to go to the authorities–Three Keys works to gain readers’ sympathy for undocumented immigrants who live each day fearing that they could lose rights or be deported. With a timely release just before the November 2020 elections, Three Keys seeks to remind readers of the humanity of immigrants, calling for empathy rather than fear or hate.

Three Keys is obviously a political book, even if readers do not read the afterword, in which Kelly Yang describes her experiences growing up in 1994 and hearing about Prop 187, a California ballot initiative that sought to bar undocumented immigrants from attending public schools, along with the parallels she sees today. The book centers around Prop 187 and the characters’ reactions to it. Some, like Mia, are horrified, while others think the bill does not concern them. Still others celebrate it, leading to a rise in hate crimes that Yang meticulously documents in her story, all based on real events. The book ultimately encourages readers to see everyone as connected. The message is that a bill that would affect undocumented immigrants affects us all.

Along with the message comes an engaging story, with multiple threads that Yang masterfully intertwines. The introduction of Prop 187 ultimately affects business at Mia’s hotel, her experiences at school, and her friendships, as she comes to realize that some of the people she loves the most will be hurt by Prop 187, while some of her other friends do not seem too concerned. Characters who, at first, seem attracted to Prop 187, viewing it merely as mathematical and economical sense, start to change their minds when Mia introduces them to real-life immigrants who could be affected. Thus, a story that could be depressing turns out hopeful, as Yang demonstrates that everyone has the power to make a difference.

Yang’s engaging writing style, her cast of lovable characters, and her gripping plot all combine to make Three Keys a must-read middle grade of 2020. Its release before the election was certainly timely, but its message of empathy and understanding will be relevant long after November.

4 stars

5 thoughts on “Three Keys by Kelly Yang

    • Krysta says:

      Yes, It’s been so difficult to keep up with the market this year. I don’t see a lot of marketing and I think bloggers aren’t able to keep up and inform me like they normally would. But this was a wonderful follow-up!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Michael J. Miller says:

    I’m sure the message of empathy will, in some ways, be needed even more after the election. It seems like so often people can become very politically aware and active during an election (which I’m not judging! I think that’s important! that’s how democracy functions!) but then there’s the tendency to reset our focus during “regular life.” For true systemic change to come, we really need to take a look at ourselves, where we can help, where we’re not helping, etc. and so on. I love, love, love books like these that challenge where we may draw our lines about “the Other.” It sounds incredible and I love that it’s a series building on the issue of just immigration.


    • Krysta says:

      That’s so true! We shouldn’t just think about important issues during election season. A lot of the issues that come up are ones that affect people always, not just for a few months!

      I also like this series because the author bases the plots around real events that happened to her or people she knew, or events she read about. So sometimes terrible things happen in the story and the reader might want to go, “Oh! No, but surely these things don’t really happen? This is fiction, right?” But then the end note explains that these things have and are happening, which I think makes them really resonate with readers because now they can see how these issues are relevant to their own lives.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Michael J. Miller says:

        I think we often, as a sort of defense mechanism against being pulled out of our comfort zoned world view, do what we can to write things like that off, as with the, “This is only fiction” thing. So the author’s drawing from real life AND being sure to explain that helps prevent readers from doing that. It forces a more serious consideration which we may otherwise try to avoid. I think that’s brilliant and, as you say, I’m sure it only makes it more powerful.

        Liked by 1 person

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