Monday, June 2, 2014

Review: Songs of Willow Frost by Jaime Ford

Title: Songs of Willow Frost
Author: Jaime Ford
Page #: 319
Book Blurb: From Jamie Ford, author of the beloved Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, comes a much-anticipated second novel. Set against the backdrop of Depression-era Seattle, Songs of Willow Frost is a powerful tale of two souls—a boy with dreams for his future and a woman escaping her haunted past—both seeking love, hope, and forgiveness.
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 that his mother is still alive, William escapes from Sacred Heart with his friend Charlotte. The pair navigate 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 novel will resonate with anyone who has ever longed for the comforts of family and a place to call home.

While not normally a book that I would pick up on my own in a bookstore, I was pleasantly surprised by how much the premise of Songs of Willow Frost intrigued me. Ford is rather well known for his first book Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and I think the fact that I haven't actually read that book yet worked well in my favor because I didn't have very many expectations at the start of my reading experience. I do have to say that one of the reviewers on Goodreads recommended that people read the author's note first and I wholeheartedly agree with them. The note puts the entire book in a more detailed historical context that I think readers really need in order to appreciate the book fully and the large amount of research Ford must have had to do in order to create such an authentic setting of Seattle in the depression era.

One of the immediately positive aspects of this novel is that there are short and extremely suspenseful chapters that kept me from putting down the book once I had a solid chunk of time free to read. That being said I did find the narration to be a bit unbelievable. Granted you do have to make allowances for the reality that William probably grew up rather fast in the harsh orphanage environment, but the narration really isn't the voice of an approximately 12 year old boy. It sounds more like an experienced adult. Nevertheless, I still appreciated the quality of the text.

Additionally I did find that the book blurb was largely misleading and in no way captures the true progression of  the storyline. The blurb makes it sound like the entire book is devoted to William's quest to find out whether or not Willow Frost is truly his long lost mother. Without being too spoilery I'll just say that bit of story resolves in the first 80 pages or so. In fact Songs of Willow Frost is just as much a book about Willow Frost as it is about William Eng. I personally found that the flashbacks of Willow's life were far more interesting and captivating than William's adventures around Seattle. I almost wish that this book had been more about her and detailed the particulars of her rise to relative stardom

Despite those few shortcomings this is a highly enjoyable read that puts the reader through a whole spectrum of emotions. I would recommend this to anyone who is a fan of Adult Historical Fiction.