Songs of Willow Frost

Songs of Willow Frost

Book rating: 04 Hardback

By (author) Jamie Ford

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  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • Format: Hardback | 331 pages
  • Dimensions: 155mm x 236mm x 28mm | 567g
  • Publication date: 10 September 2013
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 0345522028
  • ISBN 13: 9780345522023
  • Illustrations note: maps
  • Sales rank: 909,392

Product description

"NEW YORK TIMES "BESTSELLER From Jamie Ford, author of the beloved "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, "comes a much-anticipated second novel. Set against the backdrop of Depression-era Seattle, "Songs of Willow Frost" is a powerful tale of two souls--a boy with dreams for his future and a woman escaping her haunted past--both seeking love, hope, and forgiveness. 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. Praise for "Songs of Willow Frost" " " "If you liked "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, "you're going to love "Songs of Willow Frost." . . . tender, powerful, and deeply satisfying."--Lisa Genova "[A] poignant tale of lost and found love.""--Tampa Bay Times" " " "Arresting . . . [with] the kind of ending readers always hope for, but seldom get.""--The Dallas Morning News" "[An] achingly tender story . . . a tale of nuance and emotion."--"The""Providence Journal" "Ford crafts [a] beautiful, tender tale of love transcending the sins people perpetrate on one another and shows how the strength of our primal relationships is the best part of our human nature.""--Great Falls Tribune" " " "Remarkable . . . likely to appeal to readers who enjoy the multi-generational novels of Amy Tan.""--Bookreporter" " " "Jamie Ford is a first-rate novelist, and with "Songs of Willow Frost" he takes a great leap forward and demonstrates the uncanny ability to move me to tears."--Pat Conroy "With vivid detail, Jamie Ford brings to life Seattle's Chinatown during the Depression and chronicles the high price those desperate times exacted from an orphaned boy and the woman he believes is his mother. "Songs of Willow Frost" is about innocence and the loss of it, about longing, about the power of remembered love."--Nancy Horan, author of "Loving Frank" "Ford's boundless compassion for the human spirit, in all its strengths and weaknesses, makes him one of our most unique and compelling storytellers."--Helen Simonson, author of "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand" "A beautiful novel . . . William's journey is one you'll savor, and then think about long after the book is closed."--Susan Wiggs, author of "The Apple Orchard"

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Author information

The son of a Chinese American father, Jamie Ford is the author of the "New York Times" bestselling novel "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, " which won the Asian-Pacific American Award for Literature. Having grown up in Seattle, he now lives in Montana with his wife and children.

Customer reviews

By Julie Smith 29 Dec 2013 4

In 1934 San Francisco, William Eng is 12 years old, the only Chinese boy left at the Sacred Heart Orphanage after the other runs away. He is treated shabbily by the sisters (as are all of the "orphans"), but he knows in his heart that his mother isn't dead. Even after five years, he still believes in her and knows she will come back for him.

I really can't go much into the storyline without spoilers, because most of what happens will take the reader by surprise. When William teams up with a blind girl named Charlotte, his one true friend from the orphanage, to search out a woman he saw on screen on one of the children's rare outings, we cross our fingers and hope. We feel dashed the ground at the obstacles and rejection he receives, but we still hope.

As the story of Liu Song, William's mother, comes to us in flashbacks of time, we find ourselves almost moaning aloud at her struggles and sacrifice.

This is not a "feel-good" novel - it is superbly written and drags the reader in, down to the depths and the heartache and the injustice. It perfectly captures the pathos of the Depression Era as well as the plight of Chinese immigrants who faced bigotry at every turn from their fellow Americans.

I highly recommend this one.

QUOTES:

William had been to the public library only once before, on a field trip, and even though he wasn't allowed to check out anything, he never forgot how it felt to wander in and see books on shelves as high as the ceiling. The library is like a candy store where everything is free.

Liu Song's smile vanished. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. She'd known of parents who sold off their extra sons to families that needed the help, but rarely had a daughter changed families - at least in America and not in her neighborhood. Except in arranged marriages.

By Karielle 31 Oct 2013 5

Maybe it was his imagination. Or perhaps he was daydreaming once again. But William knew he had to meet [Willow Frost] in person, because he had once known her by another nameâ??he was sure of it. With his next-door neighbors in Chinatown, she went by Liu Song, but he'd simply called her Ah-ma. He had to say those words again. He had to know if she'd hear his voiceâ??if she'd recognize him from five long years away.

On an outing to Seattle's Moore Theatre, 12-year-old William Engâ??the only Chinese-American orphan at Sacred Heartâ??is stunned to catch onscreen, the familiar face of well-admired actress and "Oriental beauty," Willow Frost, whom he, five years ago, knew by another name: mother.

Songs of Willow Frost is a sensationally crafted novel that follows William's search for his carefully buried roots, spurned by the kind of familial longing only known as a child's unconditional love, and the ghosts and demons of his mother's past that he discovers along the way. The narrative shifts between the Great Depression and the technological revolution of the early 1920s, offering both William's real, raw perspective of Chinese-American life, as well as Liu Song's shining voiceâ??her invaluable song.

There are just so many things I loved about this book! It's distressing how I can't list them all off at the same time, but I'll begin with the characters. William's naïveté is tender, and will make your heart ache. At once hopeful and painfully mature, his narrative gives rich glimpses of what it must have been like to be an abandoned child during the Great Depressionâ??who were dubbed "orphans" like he was, and were not at all uncommon during this timeâ??and is so emotionally well rendered. Liu Song is the character who has committed a mother's most atrocious crime by abandoning her child, but once her side of the story is toldâ??and with it, William's mysterious past unraveledâ??we see nothing but the compromised woman with a crushing sadness, the brave, beautiful performer who sacrificed everything to salvage her son. While William's story is profound, Liu Song's is haunting, debilitating. She is so real and so human; I related to her in so many ways, which is the magic of her complex and alluring characterization in that she is exonerated because we as readers want to forgive herâ??we want to understand.

Ford effectively evokes the glamor of pre-Depression 1921, which enshrouded the magic of theatre and the rise of the radio star, and even transitioning to later years, conveys the grayness of the Great Depression in tandem with the emergence of Hollywood's Golden Eraâ??which is to say, film over theatre, or Willow Frost over Liu Song. I am amazed at how culturally rich and historically vibrant Ford's Seattle Chinatown is; I lived, breathed, and loved these characters and this setting.

The story is also extremely stylistically impressive; Ford writes with great sensitivity and deep beauty in the tenderest way that induces shivers and raises goosebumps. In Willow's distraught confession, plea for forgiveness, and imminent personal departure, her past's troubles, her largest of sacrifices, and ultimately, her desire to rise up from cowering behind the façades of both the stage and screen, are intimately, agonizingly revealed... all in order to give everything to the one person she will never cease to love: her son.

Pros: Breathtaking historical sceneryâ??colorful and lush descriptions of 1920s- and 30s-era Seattle // William and Willow are gorgeously characterized; both are lovable AND complex // Intriguing story with unique backdrop // Insight into both early 20th-century Chinese culture and Chinese-American expectations // Lovely in style... I could read Jamie Ford's prose forever! // Poignant, heartbreaking // Evocative of a mother's love; well-developed (albeit convoluted) mother-son relationship portrayed

Cons: Occasionally, scenes dragged out and grew boring, but this was not that big of a problem for me, and it was mostly just in the beginning

Verdict: Lacerating, expressive, and beautifully melancholic, Jamie Ford's long-anticipated second novel unfalteringly trails young William Eng as he determinedly sets out to unearth a slew of family secrets and a home for his perpetually expectant heart. With stunning insight on a desolate, but regardless exquisite mother-child relationship, and magnificent attention to period detail, Songs of Willow Frost is a stirring, tumultuous, and ultimately triumphant story of one mother's struggle to stay afloat under immense societal scrutiny and Chinese-influenced expectation, and how although that survival may become her weakness and her desperation, it will never diminish her overwhelming love.

Rating: 9 out of 10 hearts (4 stars): Loved it! This book has a spot on my favorites shelf.

Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher via tour publicist in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Random House and TLC!)

Review quote

"Arresting . . . You can't blame Willow for weeping, and you will likely weep along with her as you come to understand how she made the choices she did. . . . ["Songs of Willow Frost" has] the kind of ending readers always hope for, but seldom get."--"The Dallas Morning News" " " "A story of determination and resourcefulness, and of finding the right family . . . Jamie Ford's new novel, "Songs of Willow Frost, "is set during the 1930s, the era of the Great Depression and the explosive growth of the movie industry. Both play a part in the book's poignant tale of lost and found love that reads like a heart-on-its-sleeve plot for one of the black-and-white films of the day."--"Tampa Bay Times" " " "I could not turn away from the haunting story or the stunning historical details that bring Depression-era Seattle to cinematic life. Ford's boundless compassion for the human spirit, in all its strengths and weaknesses, makes him one of our most unique and compelling storytellers."--Helen Simonson, author of "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand" " " "Beautifully told . . . ["Songs of Willow Frost"] offers us hope that even in hard times, love wins out."--"Missoula Independent" "Ford is a first-rate novelist whose first book, "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, "was a joy to read. With his new book, he takes a great leap forward and has the uncanny ability to move me to tears."--Pat Conroy, author of "South of Broad" "[A] forthright, affecting second novel . . . a fine-textured study of human loss and, finally, triumph."--"Library Journal" " " "Handily lives up to the promise of its much-praised predecessor (and Ford's debut), "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" . . . The urgency of childhood, the heart-wrenching decisions parents must make, and the trials of poverty give this novel a solid emotional footing."--"Publishers Weekly" "A tender, deeply felt novel . . . "Songs of Willow Frost" ultimately yields redemption, h