Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Songs of Willow Frost

Title:  Songs of Willow Frost
Author:  Jamie Ford
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books, The Random House Publishing Group, Random House, Inc. 2013. 331 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on how much I enjoyed the author's first book, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.

Favorite Quote:  "The uncomfortable truth is that no one is all bad, or all good. Not mother and fathers, sons and daughters, or husbands and wives. Life would be much easier if that were the case. Instead, everyone ... was a confusing mix of love and hate, joy and sorrow, longing and forgetting, misguided truth and painful deception."

Willow Frost is a Chinese American actress. William Eng is a twelve year old Chinese American boy living in an orphanage. He has lived there for five years since his mother's body was carried away from their apartment in Seattle. He remembers a life before; he remembers his mother's love.

One day, as a special treat, the orphanage children are taken to the movies. He sees Willow Frost on the screen and believes that she is his mother, Liu Song, even though he has believed that she died. He and his friend Charlotte, a young blind resident of the orphanage, run away to find Willow Frost.

The story continues with William's, Charlotte's, but most of all Willow Frost's story. The reader learns a story of abuse, loss, love, betrayal, and the difficult choice of a parent. Set in the twenties and the Depression, it becomes also a story of the times and the struggles of people who could not provide for their children. The historical references to the early days of the film industry and events like the massacre at Seattle Wah Mee Club provide the backdrop to this story.

The book is predictable - the story of William's birth, Charlotte's story, even the ending. The other incongruous note in the book is that William and Charlotte are so young. Yet, the insight the characters show is well beyond their years. You might say that this makes the book somewhat unrealistic or you might choose to say that the traumatic experiences of their children makes them older than their chronological age. I choose to go with the latter interpretation.

The bottom line is that Jamie Ford weaves such an emotionally gripping tale that the other things don't matter. The emotions hit you even as you anticipate them. The age of the characters ceases to matter as you feel their sense of pain and abandonment and even joy.

Loved Jamie Ford's first book. Loved this one. Can't wait to see what comes next.

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