Published by Ballantine on Sep. 10, 2013
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher, TLC Book Tours
It’s an exciting day at the Sacred Heart Orphanage; this is the day that all the boys get to celebrate their birthday. To make the day special, the boys are taken to see a movie and given some money to buy themselves a treat. In Depression-era Seattle, this is no small occasion.
At the movie, a beautiful Asian American woman comes onto the screen and 12-year-old William comes to an impossible realization — that this actress, Willow Frost, is his mother. He has dim memories of his mother, who he hasn’t seen in more than five years, since she was carried nearly lifeless from their apartment. He is told by a nun that she entered an asylum and never left, but he is certain Willow Frost is really his mother, Liu Song.
When William finds out Willow will soon be performing in Seattle, he knows he must find a way to be reunited with her. Clearly, she is successful now and will be overjoyed to have her son back. With his best friend Charlotte, a blind girl who was abandoned by her abusive father, he escapes the orphanage and embarks on a journey across the city to see his mother perform. However, things do not fall into place as he hopes they will when he actually meets Willow. She is indeed Liu, but she has a troubled, complicated past, and being reunited with her son calls forth many memories and emotions.
Interspersed with William’s narrative is the story of Liu’s life growing up in Seattle’s Chinatown, the circumstances surrounding William’s birth, and her struggle to get by and to keep her family together after he is born. She has an absolutely devastating story, and it was really interesting to read about the experience of being an “Oriental” in America during this time period. I was shocked by the amount of racism she encountered and heartbroken by the tragedies she was forced to bear. Her story is marred by the deaths of loved ones, horrible cruelty, rape, and rampant, institutionalized racism — Chinese women couldn’t even be treated in white hospitals.
I loved the setting of this book. Depression-era Seattle is fascinating, and it was especially interesting to read about Chinatown and the experience of Asian immigrants and their children. Ford does an excellent job of evoking the atmosphere of this time and place. The role of film in this novel was also very interesting; it was clear how the burgeoning film industry shone like a beacon of hope for the downtrodden, offering them an escape from the drudgery of their lives.
I thought this was a fantastic book about a mother and a son — their fierce love, separation, and desperate struggle for meaning and acceptance in a world determined to stomp on them. It’s riveting, sad, and beautiful.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.
SONGS OF WILLOW FROST GIVEAWAY
The publishers of this book have kindly offered a copy of Songs of Willow Frost to give away. To enter, click the Rafflecopter link below. Please note that this giveaway is only open to US residents. This giveaway will be open until 12 a.m. October 18.