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 nameÃ?Â¢??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 voiceÃ?Â¢??if she'd recognize him from five long years away.
On an outing to Seattle's Moore Theatre, 12-year-old William EngÃ?Â¢??the only Chinese-American orphan at Sacred HeartÃ?Â¢??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 voiceÃ?Â¢??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 naÃ??Ã?Â¯vetÃ??Ã?Â© 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 DepressionÃ?Â¢??who were dubbed "orphans" like he was, and were not at all uncommon during this timeÃ?Â¢??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 toldÃ?Â¢??and with it, William's mysterious past unraveledÃ?Â¢??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 herÃ?Â¢??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 EraÃ?Â¢??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 faÃ??Ã?Â§ades 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 sceneryÃ?Â¢??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!)show more