I mentioned in my October goals wrap-up post that I managed to finish not two, but three books by the end of the month. The third, bonus book was Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford, a New York Times bestselling author. I received this book as a Christmas gift from my mom, who gives all three of her children (including T) a “book package” every year. She and I have very similar tastes in books (and most things really), so I knew I would enjoy it before I even started reading.
And I did enjoy it. The story takes place in Depression-era Seattle, where a Chinese-American boy named William tries to escape from an orphanage and reconnect with his mother, whom he believes is still alive. The timeline bounces back and forth quite a bit between William’s story, in 1934, and his mother’s story, which begins in 1921, but it’s not hard to follow because Ford always includes the year in parentheses at the beginning of each chapter.
The writing is straightforward, not too flowery but also not too simple. I don’t tend to like reading long descriptions of places or people; I prefer for the story and the characters to unfold more naturally instead of being all laid out at the beginning, and I appreciate that Ford writes like that. Having only been to Seattle once, I don’t know the city well at all, but I also didn’t want to read a lot about the geography. Thankfully, he doesn’t include more of those details than are necessary, and he does a great job of describing specific locations like the Sacred Heart orphanage and Chinatown.
I found the subject matter pretty fascinating as well. Willow Frost is a stage and film performer whose parents were both Chinese opera singers. Obviously this appealed to me quite a bit and I could relate to Willow and her passions and interests more than most other readers probably could. I’m also particularly interested in that era of American history, so that helped too.
What makes this book really special, though, is the character development. When I first met William’s mother, I thought she was incredibly shallow and a horrible person for doing what she did. However, the more I read, the more deeply I felt for her and for the things she went through that caused her to make the choices that she made. I found myself thinking about what I would have done if I had been in her position, which to me is the mark of an excellent writer.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants a fairly easy read that keeps you engaged and on your toes. It’s heartwarming and heart wrenching at the same time, and who doesn’t like that in a good book?