Songs of Willow Frost is the second novel by Jamie Ford, the (justly) acclaimed author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Like his previous work, this novel explores a dark time in American history. This is the story of a 12-year-old Chinese boy who lives in a Seattle orphanage in 1934. While conditions at Sacred Heart Orphanage are harsh, William Eng and the other orphans are relatively lucky. Outside the walls of Sacred Heart, the Great Depression rages. Dispossessed families live in a nearby Hooverville. There are bread lines, and children work to support their families by shining shoes and selling newspapers. William and the other orphans have a roof over their heads, 3 meals a day, and regular schooling.
Many of the children at Sacred Heart are not, technically, orphans. Their families, unable to care for them, have left them at the orphanage, with a vague promise to one day return. The annual outing celebrating the collective birthday of the boys of Sacred Heart includes a visit to a local movie theater. On the screen, William sees the actress Willow Frost. He is convinced that Willow is his mother. The last time William saw his beloved ah-ma he was six years old and she lay dying in a bathtub in their small apartment in a seedy Seattle hotel. Liu Song was brought to a hospital, and William to Sacred Heart.
William sees from a flyer that Willow is appearing in a revue that will soon be coming to Seattle. He is determined to escape the orphanage and find Willow.
Songs of Willow Frost is an excellent novel. The characters are realistic and believable. The plot moves along at a good pace, despite the use of flashbacks. It took me a long time to read this book, but only because it was so sad that I could only read a little at a time. Jamie Ford has avoided the “sophomore curse” of so many second novels. I highly recommend this book. Many thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for sending this along to me.
Hardcover-to be published-Ballanatine Books- September 2013