Willow Frost is Another Winner
Mr. Ford seems to have a penchant for writing stories that will warm your heart only after breaking it a few times along the way. Of course, book-clubbers fell in love with his debut novel, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, helping to make it a New York Times best-seller which rode the list for 136 weeks, selling well over a million copies on that ride. Back then, our hearts ached for the star-crossed young lovers, Henry and Keiko. Well, he’s up to his old tricks again in his sophomore novel, Songs of Willow Frost—and we’re up to our elbows in tissues. But before we get into the book, I have to share a little anecdote about what happened when I first read this latest Jamie Ford sob-fest of a novel.
Handsome Hubby and I were on our way to the East Coast recently, and as we were about to land he happens to glance over and see me sniffling, tears streaming down my face. Alarmed, he leaned over and asked, “Honey, are you alright?”
Pulled from my post-reading trance, I replied,” Oh…Yes…I just finished Jamie Ford’s new book…And it was just… beautiful…”
Disgusted that I had concerned him over something as trivial as a book, he shook his head while rolling his eyes and shutting the Ron Chernow book he happened to be reading. I could tell he was thinking, “I can’t believe she would get so worked up over a stupid book.” (Yeah—we’ve been married 30 years now—I can translate almost any gesture…)
We landed a few minutes later, and as we were gathering our belongings to exit the plane, another passenger glanced over and recognized the book in Handsome Hubby’s hand. “Hey—that’s Chernow’s latest, isn’t it? How do you like it?” he asked.
Handsome Hubby replied, “I’m really enjoying it. He’s a good writer.” And then with a smirk in my direction, he added, “But apparently he’s not Jamie Ford…”
Obviously, I enjoyed reading this latest book by the inimitable Jamie Ford. And here’s why I think you will too…
Synopsis: Twelve-year-old William Eng, a Chinese-American boy, has lived at Seattle’s Sacred Heart Orphanage—a rather Dickensian institution—for the last five years ago. On a field trip to the historical Moore Theatre, William hears an actress sing who he swears must be his mother. On a mission to discover the truth, he and his best friend Charlotte escape the orphanage in (you’re going to love this) a book mobile. Now the pair must survive the streets of Depression-era Seattle on their own. In a secondary story thread, we follow Willow Frost, a young Chinese-American singer turned actress through her roller-coaster life and career. Can these two really be related?
Setting: Well-researched, yet authentically personal, “Songs” is told in the alternate voices of 12-year old William Eng and Willow Frost (partially based on real-life film star, Anna Mae Wong.) The narrative covers the time period of 1920’s and 1930’s Seattle. So, it follows that the author would bring in a personal aspect of Chinese-American life in this city. (Ford, himself, is self-described as “half Chinese, half Betty Crocker-White” and lived in Seattle for a long spell.) As with Ford’s previous novel, we feel as though we can see, taste, and feel the city of Seattle—although this time we’re transported to the Depression era.
Characters: Although the strong setting is realistically drawn, it is the characters that drive this story. Be prepared to fall in love with young William—who’s as charming as Hotel‘s Henry—and Charlotte, a beautiful but blind fellow orphan, who serves as Willie’s sidekick and is wise beyond her years. It may take a while to warm to Willow. But her “frost” melts when we witness what caused her to make the choices that she has, and then we learn to sympathize with her plight, as well.
Favorite Quote: “The Library is like a candy store where everything is free.” (Obviously written by a man who loves libraries. And not a surprise—since he met his lovely wife at one…)
Discussable Themes: Book clubs have much fodder for discussion in this book including the themes of loss and abandonment; hope and healing; mother/son relationships; the meaning of home and family; hurt and forgiveness; child-abuse; orphans and orphanages; the great depression; minorities in the film industry; and search for identity. But don’t worry—if you can’t devise questions from these themes, they’ve included a reader’s guide for you in the back of the book. And taking this lead, my library book club has already selected “Songs” for one of our upcoming reads—come join us!
Although highly recommended, don’t forget that this novel comes with a major hanky-warning!
Details and Links:
The book: Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford.
Ballantine Books, $26.00 (319p) September 2013, ISBN 978-0-345-52202-3
Author Website: JamieFord.com
Publisher’s Website: RandomHouse.com (Ballantine Books is an imprint of Random House)
Read the first two chapters for free: Scribd.com
Author Talks about his new book: YouTube
Author Interview: YouTube (sorry about the background noise—BEA can be a real zoo…)
* Rating at the time of this posting
Author’s prior work: The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Disclaimers: I consider Jamie Ford a friend (as well as a literary genius…) But if you don’t trust my (admittedly biased) judgment—you’ll just have to pick up a copy of Songs of Willow Frost for yourself and see if I’m exaggerating!
I received a copy of the book for review purposes. I do not receive any compensation for any feature or recommendation that appears on my website or recommendation I make to my clubs. I am a member of Amazon Associates program, and I do get a small amount of money if you buy a book using my links. So far, I’ve earned enough to buy a bag of Meow Mix™ for my cats, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid…
Oh, yeah—and sincere apologies to Ron Chernow. Apparently, he IS a really good writer. And he cannot help it if he’s not Jamie Ford.