Random House Publishing|September 10, 2013|Hardcover|ISBN: 978-0-345-52202-3
From Jamie Ford, author of the beloved Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, comes a much anticipated second novel. Set against the backdrop of Depression-era Seattle, Songs of Willow Frost is a powerful tale of two souls – a boy with dreams for his future and a woman escaping her haunted past – both seeking love, hope, and forgiveness.
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 start is his mother, Liu Song.
Determined to find Willow and prove that 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 1920’s, Songs of Willow Frost takes readers on an emotional journey of discovery. Jamie Ford’s sweeping novel will resonate with anyone who has ever longed for the comforts of family and a place to call home.
Jamie Ford has definitely outdone himself with Songs of Willow Frost. I has so thoroughly enjoyed his first novel, ‘Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet’, that I didn’t think it possible to outshine that one. But, Mr. Ford has written a compelling, emotional, heart wrenching novel that will leave you invested in this story for a long time to come.
Between the Great Depression and 1920’s Seattle lived Liu Song with her mother and step-father. Her mother used to be a performer but now lay in her bed waiting for death. Her ignorant, arrogant, filthy, Uncle Leo, her mother’s husband insisted on giving her her daily medications. Most of them some Chinese concoction he’d made up himself and Liu Song didn’t trust him. Whenever she tried to visit her mother or wash her, Uncle Leo always found some way to interrupt and kick her out of the room. To Uncle Leo, Liu Song was nothing more but a maid and servant to be ready at his beck and call. Liu Song’s other name was, Willow which most people referred to her as.
Liu Song had the most beautiful singing voice anyone had ever heard. During the day she worked for Mr. Butterfield at his music shop singing songs all day long while he worked the player piano. After her mother dies, Uncle Leo tells Mr. Butterfield to begin giving all of Willow’s wages directly to him.
Willow became pregnant but dared not tell anyone who the father was as she was too ashamed. She had a beautiful little boy she named, William. Now living on her own in an apartment she delved into motherhood with the tenacity of a mother lion. She loved William more than anything on this earth. It wasn’t easy for Willow to make a living, she struggled to provide food and clothing for William and pay rent on their small apartment. She eventually became so destitute that she took a job at a dance club in the evenings. Her only friend, Mildred, would come to babysit William overnight while Willow danced with man after man after man at the club.
When William was five-years-old, Willow became very ill and was taken from her apartment and William was sent to Seattle’s Sacred Heart Orphanage. When Mrs. Preston, a social worker, shows up at the hospital to see Willow it wasn’t a social call but an ultimatum. Willow was given the choice to either sign William over to the father or the Sacred Heart Orphanage. It broke Willow’s heart and soul to sign her name to those papers giving up all parental rights to William – permanently.
On William’s twelfth birthday, the nuns from Sacred Heart take all the orphans to the Moore Theatre, where William sees an actress on the screen whose name was, Willow Frost. William knew deep in his heart that this Willow Frost was his mother whom he hadn’t seen in seven years. He knew it was her by her features and knew she was really Liu Song – his long lost mother.
William was determined to find her and prove she was really his mother and not dead as he’d been led to believe by Sister Briganti at the orphanage. With his friend Charlotte in tow, they escape from Sacred Heart and begin to navigate the streets of Seattle. William will learn that the “story of Willow Frost, is far more complicated than the Hollywood fantasy William sees onscreen.”
Songs of Willow Frost made me laugh, made me cry, and shattered my heart in other places. It was such an emotionally charged novel and so well-written that I literally felt like I was inside the story following along behind Willow and William. I could clearly picture in my mind’s eye the sights and hear the sounds of the music and the trolley cars, and smell the odours in the air. I was so grossly invested in this novel that I just couldn’t put it down. On one hand, I wanted to read faster to find out what was going to happen next, but on the other hand, I tried to maintain a slower pace because I didn’t want the book to end.
My sincere hope is that Mr. Ford will seriously consider writing a sequel to Songs of Willow Frost as there is still so much more that could be told.