This week I read Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford. It might be the best book I've read all year, but it was published in 2013. I don't know how I've missed hearing about it for two years, but somehow I managed it. Ford also wrote Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and I'm currently reading it.
William Eng is a 12 year old Chinese-American orphan living in Seattle's Sacred Heart orphanage during the Great Depression. When the boys from Sacred Heart are treated to a movie field trip, William is convinced that the movie star Willow Frost is his mother. He last saw his mother as she was being taken away to the hospital from their derelict Chinatown apartment five years earlier. Believeing that his mother wants him and doesn't know where to find him, William plots to track her down during one of her tour stops in Seattle. He decides to run away from Sacred Heart, and he doesn't go alone. His accomplice on his quest: a blind female classmate who also happens to be his closest friend at the orphanage.
I don't want to give away any spoilers, but trust me, I couldn't put it down. Ford's writing style is lyrical and enriches the melancholy tone of the story. I appreciate the history presented in the novel (I had no idea that Seattle was home to one of the largest film studios in the US). The details about Chinese culture and community are fascinating and give depth to the novel. Half of the book is told in flashback, but I didn't find the interruption in the forward motion of the plot annoying like I normally do; Ford utilizes this literary device well. Seattle is a character in the story, and her opulent movie palaces are described so well that I can picture them in my mind. I've always found it interesting that the movie industry boomed during the Depression when so many other businesses failed. Folks needed a distraction from their troubles, and Hollywood (and Seattle!) were eager to provide entertainment for the struggling masses. Movies symbolized hope for a better future for millions of Americans during the Great Depression. The children at Sacred Heart also hope for the return of their absent parents. These orphans will break your heart!
I hope you'll read this remarkable book, and I'll post about Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet next week.
What are you reading this summer? Please link-up and share!