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. Shifting between the Great Depression and the 1920s, 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.
Charlotte is blind. William is her staunch friend and reliable helper. He is always ready to lend a hand with her schoolwork, and she is always ready with a smile and soft words. They have each others back, and that's important for us all, I think? They even find a way to have an adventure together. The adventure doesn't end well...but it changes Williams life. The adventure began when the group of boys from Sacred Heart are taken to a film and William believes he sees his mother. So many tangles in the life of such a young boy!
Charlotte's life doesn't stay the same either. Ripples from one life reach out to touch the ripples of another and things change. Change is sometimes good, but not always.
This is a good story, often sad, sometimes hopeless, but now and then there is a glimmer of light. As for the ending, it is I believe going to mean different things to different readers, as we will find throughout the book. A hard read fi you were a child left behind, something different if you had a strong family who had your back. Which are you? What do you think of the lives these children and those around them led? I wish I could know.
The writing style is almost poetic at times, but never forced. I love beautiful writing, but it is a real pet peeve of mine that it not be a piece if literary work for just arts sake. The writing has to be entertaining and still simplistic enough to be enjoyed, and Jamie Ford struck a beautiful balance.
I have seen some reviews that have mentioned that William's story doesn't seem authentic since the vocabulary is well above a twelve year old boys. I couldn't disagree more. This is not a first person narrative, it is a story being told about both Willow and William, alternating between the two. The narrative voice remains the same and is very well done. Bravo, Jamie Ford.
I enjoyed this book for several reasons. William is a charming boy. He won my heart from the very beginning, and I rooted for him against all odds. I was willing to overlook some major coincidences in the plot because I was so enthralled by William's story. William's relationship with his best friend at the orphanage, a blind girl named Charlotte, made me like William even more, and I loved how their relationship grew as they searched for William's mother. Ford also does an excellent job weaving in the historical context, providing details that bring the story to life without overusing the research. There is a note at the end of the book about how Ford came to write this book, and I wished I had read it first. The book is not autobiographical, but it pulls in threads from his own family in a way that brings another dimension to the book. Ford also clearly knows Seattle. (His first book, [Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet], was also set there.) Some of his best writing are descriptions of the city. For example:
"William woke to another gloomy, drizzly morning, the sun hidden beyond an overcast sky, pale and cadaverous. He shivered as he peered through the October mists of Puget Sound. The horizon was a wet blanket of gray, without any real definition. Just fog and haze. The inverted weather system was perpetually coiled up, ready to sneeze."
In all, I recommend this book, especially for fans of well-written historical fiction.
While I enjoyed the story, some of the transitions from William's to Willow's stories seemed a bit awkward. The extensive research of depression era Seatlle was excellent, and provided a rich background to the story.
The story was okay but at times seemed forced and the dialogue just didn't flow. The main bones of the story is fascinating. I did feel for all the little children abandoned to the nuns in the orphanage. Believe me, these nuns could have been a little more caring, knowing how these children must have felt losing their parents or parent.
The two different sides of his mother seemed almost impossible. How does a person change so much? I know they can become bitter when life doesn't turn out the way they expected, but his mother does a complete 360.
So I liked it, it was a good story, I just wanted to feel a little more involved in these character's lives.
For the last five years William Eng, a twelve year old Chinese-American boy has been a residence of the Sacred Heart Orphanage in Seattle. He remembers his mother being carried away from their apartment but can only assume her fate since she never came back for him. Every year the nuns celebrate the orphans’ birthdays’ collectively by telling them news of their families and taking them to see a movie. That is where William sees Willow Frost for the first time and knows in his heart that she is his mother. It’s that day that he decides to do whatever it takes to find Willow Frost and in turn claim the family that he lost.
This novel is told from both William and Willow’s point of view and both are equally heart wrenching as well as heartwarming. One is a story of ambition, loss and sacrifice. The other is also about ambition and loss but also friendship and longing. On top of all that emotion is the harsh truth about racial and sexual equality of that time plus the obligation of tradition.
I have been very lucky so far this year to have read some phenomenal books and have been introduced to wonderful writers. This is absolutely among the greatest novels I have ever read. It’s hard to emphasize what made it great without giving bits away so I will keep it brief. The characters and how their stories intertwined kept me on an emotional reel. Sometimes jumping between perspectives can seem tedious but these flowed flawlessly and seemed to balance seamlessly. The pacing was never off and the pages turned effortlessly. There is something in these pages that everyone can relate to and something that will stick in readers’ minds for a long time. This is a novel I will visit again in the future.
I do believe I am gushing a little. This is a must read!
William knew nothing of his mother's past but it didn't matter. He had to find her. He and his friend Charlotte planned how to escape from the orphanage to find her. William was a kind, sweet boy just like his mother. You will feel so sorry for Liu Song and William as well since he had to live without his mother for five years when she was actually alive and close by. Most of the characters were sad and unhappy, but the book is exceptional.
SONGS OF WILLOW FROST tells the tale of Liu Song and her life of sadness, loneliness, and betrayal. Her life was not pleasant. Liu Song had to endure hardship and a cruel stepfather who made her call him Uncle because he was disappointed and embarrassed that she wasn't a boy. She also had to live with the stigma that her mother who was onstage was deemed no better than a prostitute.
You will feel Liu Song's pain, hopelessness, and humiliation ooze through the pages as Mr. Ford beautifully weaves between past and present. Beautiful like the good heart of Liu Song.
You will be immersed in old-world traditions as you follow Liu Song through her day being treated as a slave instead of a daughter. You will feel her pain as the inevitable happened to her because of her step-father's visits at night and her sadness as she had to give up happiness. You will HATE Uncle Leo because he is the one who caused all of Liu Song's problems.
SONGS OF WILLOW FROST was skillfully written in Mr. Ford's descriptive, flowing style and also very heart wrenching. I felt myself wanting to push Liu Song to tell the truth about what really happened to her and to move on so she could have some happiness in her life instead of despair. Mr. Ford allows you to feel as though you are right there feeling the emotions and living the lives the characters are leading.
SONGS OF WILLOW FROST was about making decisions, living with regrets, and longing for what some folks have and what you were deprived of.
SONGS OF WILLOW FROST is haunting, heartbreaking, and hard to believe yet mesmerizing. Mr. Ford’s marvelous talent won’t disappoint in his second book. 5/5
This book was given to me free of charge and without compensation by the publisher in return for an honest review.
This book captured me immediately and I was drawn into the life of a young orphan named William Eng and his longing to have his mother back in his life. On an outing to the movies, William sees an actress on screen who he is convinced is his supposedly dead mother.
Set in Seattle during the throes of the Great Depression, Ford brings the time and sense of place to life. Ford divulges the past through flash backs from several points of view and he does it with a deft hand. The characters are so real, it's as if you can hear them breathing from the pages. The story of William's search for and eventual finding of his mother had me riveted eliciting emotions from me in a full range.
I absolutely love Ford's writing style. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up. You won't regret it!
Ultimately the story is about love, motherhood and sometimes the difficult choices that must be made by a parent to help their child. Times were different in the depression era and the arbor does a wonderful job of setting the time and place.
For fans of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, you won't want to miss this one.
William Eng is a 12 year old orphan at a convent orphanage in depression era Seattle. On a movie outing with the other orphan boys, he believes he recognizes his mother in one of actresses. He embarks on a journey to find her, his own past, and hopes to alter his bleak future. Others have mentioned that the story is a bit slow but I found it hard to put down. There is much heartbreak and sadness along the way but in the end, I found the story entirely satisfying.
Willow/Liu Song is a memorable character too but although I did feel sorry for her, I didn’t have the same feelings for her as I did for William. Her story is a sad one but some of that sadness comes from the choices she makes, Yes, I know bad things happened to her and I know she had no choice in those matters but I think her later choices are the ones she felt the most guilt for and in some ways rightfully so. Yes, I know it is a different time and prejudices being what they were made things all the harder for her as a single/unwed Chinese mother in the 1920’s so I understand she did the best she could being so young and having no family to depend on. Ok, I am not going to say anymore you will need to make your own decision about how you feel about Willow.
I liked the alternating chapters as Willow tells William the story of his life before the orphanage and seeing it through his eyes as the story unfolds, as sparks of memory he had forgotten are reignited.
How come it is so hard for me to write a coherent review of a book I loved? This book made me feel so much, it is beautifully written; Jamie Ford has a great talent for taking a sad/bittersweet story and telling it in a way that you are not depressed when you are done with the book. There were a few times I had to put it down for a few moments, one moment especially and when you read the book you will know exactly which one I am talking about. But it just made the story more beautiful, and heartbreaking.
This is an amazing story, I for one absolutely loved it and I hope you will too. Beautifully, heartrending and heartbreaking but a story that will stay with you long after you are finished, I have such a book hangover from this book that I have not been able to start a new book yet, and for me that is a sure sign of a great book.
I received this book from the Librarything Early reviewer program (also was accepted for it from netgalley but never got it downloaded)
Despite the harshness of the nuns at the orphanage, William has a roof over his head, food to eat, and regular schooling.William, however, dreams of his mother, his beloved Ah-Ma. When last he saw her, six years earlier, she was being taken to the hospital after being found dying in her bathtub. Of his father, William knows nothing.
On the day when all the orphan boys celebrate their birthday, they are taken to downtown Seattle to a movie. There, on the screen, William recognizes his mother, a performer known as Willow Frost. William then sees flyers that Willow is coming to Seattle as part of a revue/ He is determined to escape from the orphanage to meet her.
The characters are so well drawn and real in this book. The plot flows smoothly, despite the back and forth between 1934 and 1921, the year of William's birth. Autor Jamie Ford also wrote "Hotel On theCorner of Bitter and Sweet", another excellent book. I was slightly hesitant to start this book because I was afraid it would not measure up. In my opinion it surpassed it in all ways.
Beginning in early '30s Seattle, we enter the world of William and Charlotte, two orphans at the Sacred Heart orphanage. William, a Chinese boy, longs to find his mother. Charlotte, a blind girl, lives in fear of her father returning for her. After a chance sighting at the cinema, William is convinced his mother is Willow Frost, a well-known Chinese actress, and along with Charlotte, William sets off to find her.
This adventure, and its aftermath, is the first third of the novel. We are soon taken back in time 10 years to find out who Willow Song is, and how she got to where she is when William discovers her. The last third of the novel returns us to William's timeline for a satisfactory resolution to the story.
I found the parts of the novel about William and Charlotte to move much faster than the parts about Willow Frost (aka Liu Song). While it was interesting to read about how the Chinese were treated in 1920s Seattle, the story sometimes bogged down in the details.
Overall, however, this was an engrossing read. If you liked Lisa See's Shanghai Girls, you'll like this book too. And of course, if you enjoyed Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, you'll want to read this book. Recommended!