Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford
(Ballantine Books, 2013, 331 pages)
Set in Seattle in the early 1920s – mid-1930s this novel revolves around a young Chinese child, William, who has been living in an orphanage for the past 5 years. When he and the rest of the boys are taken to a movie to celebrate their communal birthday he sees a woman on screen and can’t shake the feeling that she is his mother. After he sees posters announcing that this actress, Willow Frost, will be coming to Seattle with a few other stars he knows that he has to find a way to see her and discover if she is who he thinks she is.
William has two best friends at the orphanage, Charlotte and Sunny. Charlotte is blind and Sunny is Native American. The three of them are definitely designated as “different” so it’s nice they’ve been able to band together. As William tries to figure out how to escape and meet Willow, Charlotte lets him know that she wants to go with him. While William worries she’ll be a hindrance, her company and support are definitely appreciated as they maneuver through the city and try to survive without much money and with the fear they’ll be discovered and transferred back to the orphanage. When they finally make it to one of Willow’s performances it becomes clear there’s a lot more to Willow’s back-story than meets the eye. She’s a star of the silver screen, but her path to celebrity wasn’t an easy one.
I enjoyed Songs of Willow Frost. It makes for a quick read and I really appreciated the historical perspective. I enjoy reading about the history of the 1920s but Ford presents a different view of this time period by focusing on the world William and Willow were part of – being Chinese in the northwest at this time had its own set of prejudices and obstacles that needed to be overcome.