Published September 2013 by Ballantine Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours
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 that his mother is still alive, William escapes from Sacred Heart with his friend Charlotte. The pair navigate 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.
"Write what you know," they tell aspiring writers. It's advice Jamie Ford clearly took to heart. Fortunately for readers, Ford's upbringing in Seattle and Chinese-American heritage have given him a wealth of personal knowledge to draw from. As he did in Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet, Ford again sets his story in the rich history of Seattle's Chinatown, this time in the period between the first World War and the Great Depression.
When things go from bad to worse in a book, I generally start to lose interest. So often it feels contrived and manipulative in a novel. For the most part, Jamie Ford manages to avoid that in Songs of Willow Frost. It is utterly conceivable that an entire family could be wiped out by the Spanish flu, completely believable that an unwed mother in the early 1920's would have a difficult life. The difficulties of being the American-born daughter of Chinese parents in that same time who doesn't always feel that she fits in either Chinese or American society ring true and the result is a story that is heart-breakingly sad.
|Anna May Wong on whom Willow Frost is modeled|
There is much for book clubs to discuss in Song of Willow Frost including racism, commitment, poverty. For lovers of historical fiction, I definitely recommend Songs of Willow Frost.
the full tour. The son of a Chinese American father, Jamie Ford is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, which won the Asian-Pacific American Award for Literature. Having grown up in Seattle, he now lives in Montana with his wife and children.