Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford
Published by: Ballantine Books
Published on: September 10, 2013
Page Count: 352
My Reading Format: ARC provided by NetGalley for my Kindle
Available Formats: Hardcover, Audible, audiobook CD and Kindle editions
Finally we have the anticipated second novel of Jamie Ford, author of 2009's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Ford also sets his second novel in Seattle and his characters are Asian Americans marginalized from other Seattle citizens before and during the Great Depression. The narrators are William, a 12 year-old boy living in an orphanage even though his mother is alive somewhere, and his mother, Lui Song (stage name: Willow Frost), an up-and-coming actress and singer who narrates her story prior to and leading up to her son's early childhood. The reader alternates between the two narrators and their two stories as they are woven into one.
William is an outsider at Sacred Heart, the orphanage run by nuns where he is the only Chinese American child. His best friend Charlotte doesn't fit in with the crowd either. William remembers the fateful day when he as a six year-old was taken away from the apartment he shared with his mother and she was carried out as she hovered between life and death. William was unsure if she was alive until he and the other boys from Sacred Heart saw her on the movie screen in the city. From that point forward he was determined to find his mother and Charlotte volunteers to help. The two make plans and run away from the orphanage together before being returned there.
Willow's life is more complicated than it looks on screen as as she narrates her story, we find out why. After the death of her mother she is raised by a stepfather and stepmother and must leave school as a teenager to begin working. While working for the owner of a music shop, she discovers her talent for singing and acting, which brings in many customers and makes herself and the owner a decent living, except for the fact that her stepfather confiscates her income. Willow plays on the superstitions and weaknesses of her stepparents to escape their control and watchful eyes, but then must live on her own and make her own way while always looking over her shoulder to make sure he stepfather isn't behind her.
What Ford has written here is a terribly sad story, but one that I simply couldn't put down. I kept reading with the hope that one day William and Willow's stories would become one story again. I loved Charlotte's spirit and loyalty to William and she quickly became my favorite character.
Four out of five stars