Songs of Willow Frost: A Novel

by Jamie Ford

Hardcover, 2013

Collection

Genres

Publication

Ballantine Books (2013), Edition: First Edition, 352 pages

Description

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.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member mckait
So much tragedy in the world.. so much loss. We spend a lot of time in the Sacred Heart Orphanage with William, his closest friend Charlotte and abuse disguised as care. There are stories of abuse before the days in Sacred Heart. I wish I could say that it sounded impossible, but sadly, it sounded all too true. Behind all of that, is friendship and loyalty, perhaps love, too. Love between Charlotte and William.

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.
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LibraryThing member StephLaymon
I loved every moment that I spent in the pages of Songs of Willow Frost. Both William and Willow have deep contrasts to their story, the bittersweet and the tragic the reader experiences both the berry best of their lives and the worst. It is Willow's story that I relate to more as a mother. She is a true example of selfless love.
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.
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
William Eng is a twelve-year-old orphan at Seattle's Sacred Heart Orphanage during the Great Depression. Life is hard for the orphans, who have little to eat and who receive little love, but things are even harder for William, the only Chinese-American boy at the orphanage. But when the orphans are taken to the movies to celebrate their birthdays (which they all celebrate on the same day), we get a glimpse of the world outside the orphanage and realize that the orphans are better off than many of the people who are starving in the streets of Seattle. Still, William dreams of his mother, who he believes dead. Because of this, he can hardly believe his eyes when he sees her on the movie screen. The remainder of the book involves William's search for his mother and flashbacks to his mother's life before William was brought to the orphanage.

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.
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LibraryThing member sunqueen
This was a good read that takes just a bit to warm up to. The story starts with William, a chinese boy in a Catholic orphanage, then digresses into the story of his mother, Willow Frost.
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member Beamis12
I think I expected more from this novelist. Which probably is not fair, because this was a good book in its own way. I just never quite connected with the characters as much as I wished, felt almost a remove from them.
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.
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LibraryThing member shayrp76
*I received a free uncorrected galley from netgalley*
5 Stars
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!
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LibraryThing member muddyboy
This book has two principle plot lines. The first is about a young orphan who was abandoned and his quest to find the mother that abandoned him. The second is a flashback plot about how his mother came to the point of leaving him at the orphanage. It is beautifully written and mother and son have such purity of character that you want to root for them throughout the book. Although it is sentimental in spots it is not sappy or syrupy. It tugs at your emotions without overbearing melodrama. This is the authors second book and I will be reading his first book shortly.… (more)
LibraryThing member casmith4
A wonderful novel set in the depression era. William is an orphan who believes he has seen his mother on the silver screen. He sets in search of Willow Frost to find out if what he believes is true. What unfolds is the sad story of how William cam to be left at the orphanage.
LibraryThing member poetreegirl
A heart-wrenching story about a mother's love for her son, and her son's search for answers. Set in the Chinese-American neighborhood of Depression Era Seattle, this well-developed story explores morality, social taboos, poverty and racism.
LibraryThing member knittingmomof3
Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford is a beautifully written and multilayered story set in depression era Seattle that quickly draws the reader into the story and asks the reader to think about what they would do under certain circumstances. Songs of Willow Frost is beautiful, complex, filled with longing, despair, and hope. I highly recommend Songs of Willow Frost to discussion groups.… (more)
LibraryThing member SilversReviews
William lost his mother but not to death. He knew in his heart that she was still alive and he would find her some day, but he had to escape from the orphanage to do that. He knew that there was a reason she abandoned him because his mother wouldn't have left him without a good reason.

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.
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LibraryThing member momgee
Since I loved Jamie Ford's debut novel, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, I was thrilled to win his latest, The Songs of WIllow Frost.

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!
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LibraryThing member pjhess
Another great read from author Jamie Ford. William Eng is in a catholic orphanage and never given up hope that his mother is still out there somewhere and one day he is sure that he sees her in a movie. He and his friend Charlotte are determined to find the actress and prove she is his mother. Ford does an excellent job of telling Willow's story and about Seattle during the depression. His books make me feel like I am there and what a wonderful place to be.… (more)
LibraryThing member dgmlrhodes
I loved the book Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and was excited to have won a copy of the authors new book through the Library Thing Early Reviewer program. The story is one of William Eng who is growing up in an orphanage in Seattle. The story entertained with that of Williams mother whose stage name is Willow Frost. The book alternates between two time periods: Tge time before William is born (and his very early childhood) and the time around age 12.

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.
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LibraryThing member Hccpsk
An interesting book about a talented Chinese American woman and her son, William, during the depression. The narrative bounces back and forth between William’s life in an orphanage, and the back story of how he came to be there. Ford does an excellent job of highlighting the struggle of women, and especially Chinese American women during the period. It also depicts the music and movie industry during the 1920’s and 30’s. The situations and dilemmas encountered felt real, but I wish that the main character, Willow, had been more deeply drawn out. I never felt the connection to her that I did with the characters in Ford’s first book, and this made the book drag for me at times. I think that Ford’s desire for historical accuracy and details get in the way of character development, but I still recommend this book as an enjoyable read about the period.… (more)
LibraryThing member JulieC0802
Jamie Ford has done it again with his 2nd novel. Mr. Ford tells the story of William and Liu Song through both their eyes. It is a heart wrenching story of love, loss, hope and forgiveness. His characters are vivid as is Seattle in the 1920s and 1930s. You can almost feel the grime and poverty as you read through the novel.

For fans of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, you won't want to miss this one.
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LibraryThing member Abi516
I was thrilled to receive an early reviewers copy of this sophomore effort by Jamie Ford, author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Songs of Willow Frost did not disappoint. I believe that Ford has mastered the art of beautiful melancholy.

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.… (more)
LibraryThing member susiesharp
As with Ford’s last book this is a bittersweet story that will give you such major feels. William is such a sweet kid, you can't help but love him and I just wanted to give him a hug. There are 2 characters that will stay with you long after you are finished and they are William and Charlotte, these two kids are so precious and so damaged by circumstance they will break your heart but they will also fill your heart with such feelings.

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.

5 Stars

I received this book from the Librarything Early reviewer program (also was accepted for it from netgalley but never got it downloaded)
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LibraryThing member angela.vaughn
This book made me want to go out and buy Ford's first book. He managed to touch on the very real sacrifices mothers make for their children and never feel quite confident enough in their roll. I like the way the story was told fromWilliam's point of view also. You can feel the pain that they both went through and see that they will and have always been connected by their hearts.… (more)
LibraryThing member LaBibliophille
I've had this book for a bit but have been having difficulty finishing it. The reason is that is it so sad, but so excellent. It is the story of a sad boy, living in a sad time and place. William Eng is a 13 year old Chinese boy, living in an orphanage in Seattle in 1934. While things are difficult for the children at the orphanage, things are worse in the outside world. During the depths of the Great Depression, there are bread lines, Hoovervilles, and children forced to work shining shoes and selling newspapers to support their families.

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.
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LibraryThing member AlanaB
I just finished Songs of Willow Frost and really enjoyed the book. The characters and their struggles were well written and I did not want to stop reading to find out what happened to them. Jamie Ford also brought up some real issues of the time including parents leaving their children in orphanages when they could no longer provide for them during the Great Depression, the movie industry in Tacoma (which I did not know about prior to reading the book), fathers having more parental rights than mothers and forced sterilization in the sanitarium of women. He included these bits of history within the fictional story. He also included a map of Seattle which was helpful to see where certain landmarks were that were important to the story. Overall, I highly recommend this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member amandacb
I came into this Early Reviewers book with a "clean author slate"--I haven't, in fact, read Corner of Bitter and Sweet, so I had no idea what to expect in terms of authorship. Lately I have read a spate of novels involving orphans and such, so the bar was set pretty high, and thankfully I was not disappointed. Unlike some other reviewers, I felt that this story was well-paced. One must recognize that William, the boy in question, is contemplative by nature and thus the narrative will reflect that. It is a sad story, true, but definitely one worth reading.… (more)
LibraryThing member bacreads
I really liked Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet so I was pleased to receive this as an early review book. I liked it, but not quite as much as Hotel... I admire the writing of Ford, especially his phrasing and ability to allow the reader to "see" through his words. Ford stays with his Chinese heritage and as I did in Hotel... I learned more about the culture and laws that seem antiquated now. For example, Willow was born in the United States, to Chinese parents but if she were to marry a Chinese non-citizen, she would lose her citizenship. And custody laws very much favored the father. The story revolves around 12 year old William who is living in a Catholic orphanage. He sees a movie and is convinced that the actress Willow Frost is his mother and he goes in search of her. In seeking his mother he must confront mystery in his past, young life and discover the complicated life of Willow. I don't want to go to deeply into the story and spoil it for future readers. I would definitely recommend this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member curvymommy
In Jamie Ford's second novel, Songs of Willow Frost, he proves that he's not a one-hit wonder. This book was just as readable as his first, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet.

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!
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LibraryThing member AliciaClark23
This is the story of a boy named William who is living at an orphanage in Seattle during the Depression. He is searching for answers about the mother he has such fond memories of. Eventually he finds her. Her name is Willow and she is a movie star, but her past is sad and complicated. Over the course of the story William learns about his mother and the reasons she left him become clear. The story is sad, but very powerful. Seattle is always a great setting for a book in my opinion and the time period makes it even more interesting. I learned a lot about the entertainment industry of the 1920's as well as Seattle's Chinatown. I would recommend this book.… (more)

Pages

352

ISBN

0345522028 / 9780345522023
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