Songs of Willow Frost was among the ten or so I intended to read despite its failure to be a group selection. It was an extraordinary experience, full of cultural exposure, historical significance, and enchanting characters. I highly recommend this book and have heard numerous accolades for Ford's other popular title, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (which will probably make my personal 2015 list as well).
The writing in this book is lyrical and sonorous. It sweeps you into the trials and triumphs of Willow Frost's life. I listened to the audio version of this book and hung on every word pronounced by the excellent narrator, Ryan Gesell. It was a world foreign to me, yet I could relate to the longing and hopes and dreams expressed.
When twelve-year-old William Eng goes on a field trip with his orphanage to the movie theater, he is entranced by the photo of a singer due to grace the stage soon. He clearly recognizes her as his mother, whom he hasn't seen since he was seven-years-old. After running away from the orphanage with his best friend, Charlotte, to find her, he is heartbroken when the authorities seize him and return him to the orphanage. The orphanage director provides him with limited information about his mother's relinquishment of parental authority. That information is just too insufficient. He is determined to find her again and learn the whole truth of his past and confront whatever future might lie before him, with or without his mother.
The setting shifts back and forth in Seattle, Washington, between the 1920s and the 1930s, but is never hard to follow in terms of the time line presented. Willow's story is full of relational difficulties, financial woes, and moral dilemmas, but at its heart it is a story of the longing for family and the power of the gift of love. It is a tale of the advancements of the big screen and the trials of life in the cultural constrictions of Chinatown. Although, several people have given this only a one star review, because it is so sad, I thought the tale of abandonment was worth exploring despite the sadness the book evokes. There is just so much emotional pull to this story that you would be hard pressed to come away unaffected.