Songs of Willow Frost
By Jamie Ford
Ballantine Books September 2013
From the library
William Eng has lived at Sacred Heart Orphanage in Seattle since he was seven years old. On the day the orphanage when celebrates birthdays, the boy are taken to see a movie. On the screen high above him, William sees a woman who looks just like his mother. With his friend Charlotte, William sets out to find his mother and find out the truth about why she left him behind.
A few years ago, there was a lot of buzz about a book called Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. While I heard good things about it, I didn't get a chance to read it myself. When Ford's new book came out, I read endless good reviews and then decided I should read it. It was a wonderful decision.
Songs of Willow Frost is one of those amazing stories that sucks you right in from the first page and never lets go. Mr. Ford bring history to life with ease. While there are many books about the discrimination faced by African Americans, there are fewer that tell of the hatred that Chinese people faced in this nation. Willow finds herself in an impossible situation - she is Chinese in a country that sees her as a second class citizen, she is without family in a culture that values connection, and she is a single mother at a time when that was shameful in any realm of society. While I think many of us know of the horrid conditions during the Great Depression, Ford shows us just how dangerous it was to be a woman or child when there was no one to fight for them.
The things that happen to Willow and to William will break your heart and then, just when you have recovered, they will break your heart all over again. Writing from a child's point of view can be challenging, but I think Ford really captures the pain and hope that William feels as he realizes he might have a family after all. Our perceptions of Willow change as we read this story. At the beginning, we can't help but despise her for leaving behind her son. As we learn what happened to her and the difficult choices she faced, our anger turns into sympathy.
Songs of Willow Frost is an engaging story presented by an excellent writer. The history is impeccably researched, the pacing is perfect, and the characters will quickly find a place in your heart. This book is historical fiction at its best.