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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Book Review: SONGS OF WILLOW FROST by JAMIE FORD


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 his mother is still alive, William escapes from Sacred Heart with his friend Charlotte. The pair navigates 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 book will resonate with anyone who has ever longed for the comforts of family and a place to call home.




Review: I received a copy of an unedited ARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Unlike some other ARCs (Advanced Reader Copy) I have had the privilege of reading, it is difficult to believe that my copy was not the finished product! Other than a couple misspellings and wrong words typed (that vs than, etc), this was a really clean copy.

I would have to say that this is one of the most heartfelt books I've come across in a while. The author's prose is right on the mark. There weren't any tedious or boring bits to endure as I was following the plot, and never was I tempted to skim to get to the meat of the story. Throughout this well-written smooth storytelling was a tale that wrenched at my heart excruciatingly as I was fully absorbed in the protagonist's experiences of pains and joy. At the tender age of twelve, the fully tilted emotions he endures and digests is nothing but admirable. William is mature for his age due to circumstances and the experiences of life as are his two best friends. It is these friends that help William sustain himself at the orphanage in 1934 during the nation's depression era and the well known "crash" period.

Ford's descriptions of the streets, the people, and the places are so vividly articulated that one cannot help but get folded into it and immersed fully in the setting of the era, especially the Chinese theater in downtown Seattle. The theater with its pair of fortune lions at its door welcoming guests to the myriad of events scheduled within. You cannot help becoming excited along with William and Charlotte, one of his two best friends. Although blind, it is Charlotte's visions of the world and indefatigable confidence which assist William in realizing his dreams. She may not see the world physically, but she is fully able to have the insights about others, including himself, that William comes to rely on. It is through Charlotte that he becomes a brave soul.

Then there's Sunny, William's other best friend at Sacred Heart Orphanage. Ever the positive outlooker, Sunny encourages William to rise out of the gloom and sadness that would often weigh down upon him.

These three best friends bonded over their social shunning, being outcasts together. William doesn't have it easy as a Chinese boy in a place where whites are the majority and neither does Sunny, a native american. Charlotte may be a dainty pretty girl with blond locks and pale blue eyes, but she, too, experiences her own kind of shunning and it is these negative experiences that bond the three. Rather than succumbing to their individual horrible circumstances, these three are survivors.

William's and the others' stories are well woven to create an intricate and amazing tale. With these friends' support and heart, William succeeds in his chase for the answers to his many questions as to why he ended up at the Sacred Heart. As the reader who is along beside him for the ride, you cheer him on in his quest. And what a quest it is, too! The bits of memories that he's held loosely but wholly in his mind get woven together finally, but not always in a way that William had imagined and hoped. He receives the glue that binds them together.

In coming away from the story and saying goodbye to William, one cannot help but to feel fully satiated. This was definitely a reader's "meal" that left you completely full! I would wholeheartedly recommend reading this tale. Emotional, intricate, and satisfying, I enjoyed my time with William, Sunny, and Charlotte!