Jamie Ford, Songs of Willow Frost. New York: Ballantine Books, 2013. 331 pages. ISBN 9780345522023.
Songs of Willow Frost is Jamie Ford's second novel, after Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. While I had hoped to read his first novel, I never got around to it, so I was pleased to be given a personalized advance reading copy of his second book at Book Expo America, in May 2013. Songs of Willow Frost was released in September 2013, and my book club selected it for our December discussion.
Songs of Willow Frost is about William, a 12-year old boy who has been living in an orphanage for five years. He's been told that his mother is dead, so he's surprised and thrilled when he thinks he sees her during a rare group outing. He begins to plan his escape from the confines of the orphanage so that he can track his mother down, and he does so with the help of his friend Charlotte, a fellow orphan who has been blind from birth.
As William tracks down his mother, in two forays from the orphanage, he learns his mother's story and how he came to be left at the orphanage. Life in Seattle during the 1920s and 1930s for his mother Willow, a Chinese-American, was extremely difficult. When her mother dies and she's left alone with her step-father, her life takes a turn for the worse. As a single mother, she becomes even more vulnerable when her employer has to close his business and she loses her job.
I enjoyed reading about Seattle in the 20s and 30s; it's a reminder of how difficult life was when there were no social safety nets. In reading William, Willow, and Charlotte's life story, one begins to see how fragile our way of life can be. Jamie Ford writes in clear, engaging, prose that brings that time period to life. The characters are believable, and their stories are compelling. I recommend this book to anyone who likes historical fiction.