Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Twelve-year-old William Eng, a Chinese-American boy, has lived at Seattle’s Sacred Heart Orphanage ever since his mother’s listless body was carried away from their small apartment five years ago. On his birthday—or rather, the day the nuns designate as his birthday—William and the other orphans are taken to the historical Moore Theatre, where William glimpses an actress on the silver screen who goes by the name of Willow Frost. Struck by her features, William is convinced that the movie star is his mother, Liu Song.
Determined to find Willow, and prove his mother is still alive, William escapes from Sacred Heart with his friend Charlotte. The pair navigates the streets of Seattle, where they must not only survive, but confront the mysteries of William’s past and his connection to the exotic film star. The story of Willow Frost, however, is far more complicated than the Hollywood fantasy William sees onscreen.
Shifting between the Great Depression and the 1920s, Songs of Willow Frost takes readers on an emotional journey of discovery. Jamie Ford’s sweeping book will resonate with anyone who has ever longed for the comforts of family and a place to call home.
My thoughts: Jamie Ford writes an engaging historical novel on engaging and less known aspects about history. His first novel detailed the Japanese Internment camps. His protagonist was a Chinese American boy. This has worked for him since one of the protagonists is again a Chinese American boy.
This book is set in the Great Depression with the supporting story set in the same place but before the Crash. The pivotal point occurs right after the Crash. The premise is that William is now 12 years old and living in an orphanage when he recognizes that a beautiful actress is his mother. He runs away with his best friend, Charlotte, and tracks her down to find out why she abandoned him.
The story is a tragic one that encompasses the realities of women and children at this time period. Although William is at an orphanage, his life is not horrible, just not pleasant except for his friends, Sunny and Charlotte. There is also a contrast story with Charlotte and Liu Song. Both are heart breaking.
The reader quickly understands Liu Song's cage and her choices. The bright hope is only Colin who sweeps her off her feet and will someday offer to save her. I applaud that scene with a standing ovation. I won't say anything more about this but you will know it when you read it.
The book offers a snapshot of the times and the birth of the silver screen. The book is not as striking as his first novel but it is not a sophomore slump. It is a much darker reality and the reading is heavier. The ending is full of hope yet the story will continue. Not a second book but like life.
*I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.