What’s it all about?:
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 his mother is still alive, William escapes from Sacred Heart with his friend Charlotte. The pair navigates 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 book will resonate with anyone who has ever longed for the comforts of family and a place to call home.
What did I think?:
I first came across Jamie Ford in his amazing debut novel, Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet which received global acclaim and deservedly so. As a result I was really excited when my sister Chrissi managed to get her paws on a copy of Songs of Willow Frost and urged me to read it as soon as possible. It tells the story of a young orphan called William who was left in the care of the nuns at the Sacred Heart orphanage in Seattle following the death of his only surviving parent, his mother Liu Song. Life at the orphanage isn’t easy but William doesn’t really know anything different, having only hazy and vague recollections of life with his mother. Then comes a day that will change his life and what he believed about himself and his mother forever.
On one day each year (which is decided to be the birthday of all the orphans) they are taken out into the city for a treat – to watch a film in a theatre. William is excited to be away from the orphanage for a while anyway but as he watches the actress on the screen, he becomes utterly convinced it is his mother. Although he is slightly puzzled why he has been told that his mother is dead for all these years he is mostly overjoyed that he appears to have a second chance with her. With the help of his blind friend Charlotte (who is probably my favourite character) the two children run away from the orphanage and into the streets to begin the hunt for Liu Song. As they edge closer to her whereabouts William realises that there are many questions that have to be answered: why was he left at the orphanage in the first place and who exactly is this woman who claims the title of his mother? Yet William must be careful and dampen his expectations somewhat as Liu Song has had a complicated and traumatic upbringing that will give him the answers about his adoption but perhaps not the answers he wants to hear.
I think it must be really hard for authors if they have had such a successful debut novel like Jamie Ford. No matter what, the second novel is always going to be compared to it and it must be quite a lot of pressure to be under as an author. If I was to compare the two I have to confess that I do prefer Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet but this does not mean that Songs of Willow Frost is a bad book – far from it! I love books that are set in a different time period from the present and I hadn’t read anything recently that was set in 1920’s U.S.A. at the time of the Depression so it was a very interesting insight to the States at that time. William and his friend Charlotte are beautiful characters although at times they came across as a bit too adult in their way of thinking. I don’t know if this was a deliberate ruse by the author to illustrate the difference in development when raised quite strictly by nuns in an orphanage versus the usual Mum, Dad,brother, dog (insert your own favourite animal/sibling here).. family relationships. Even so, there were instances where what the children were saying/thinking didn’t feel realistic enough as their manner of speaking was just very adult. This is just a minor niggle though.
I loved that we got to read the back story of Williams mother, Liu Song especially because what she went through as a young woman was so traumatic and was very effective at tugging on my heart-strings. I also enjoyed that the author fed us tid-bits of information through the novel leading us to pose questions and feel slightly wary about Liu Song (standing sternly and protectively in front of William…oh maybe it was just me that imagined that?!) As Liu Song relates her history, the jigsaw pieces start to come together and yes, there are reasons behind her actions. William does not necessarily want to hear these reasons but it is something he must do if he is ever going to achieve any closure on this issue. I did wish that there had been a bit more of a build-up to William meeting his mother and I’m not sure why the author resolved everything quite early on but maybe I just missed something. This is still a terrific read that fans of Hotel are going to enjoy and I’m sure will bring new fans to his work. Looking forward to the next one.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):