Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford

I didn't love this book and I'm really not sure why - the characters were very likeable, the topic was interesting and, like the author's other book, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, it was well written.  Perhaps the problem was I read it in close proximity to China Dolls which had a similar subject matter (Chinatown San Fran vs. Seattle, depression era, the entertainment industry...) and I preferred that book.

This book tells the story of William, a 12 year old boy growing up in a Catholic orphanage.  He has vague memories of the night five years previously when he last saw his mother but he doesn't really know what happened to her.  The nuns have indicated she is dead.  But one day he goes to the movies and sees an ad for an upcoming show and he is convinced one of the stars, Willow Frost, is his mother.  He and his blind friend Charlotte escape the orphanage in an effort to find her.  While he finds her, he does not receive positive confirmation it is his mother before the nuns find him and return him to the orphanage.

At this point the book goes back in time and we learn the story of William's mother when she was a teenager.  She was herself orphaned and became an unwed mother in very unfortunate circumstances.  The novel then goes back and forth in time until we find out the whole story of how William ended up in the orphanage.

There are awful scenes of child abuse (both Willow and Charlotte) and the treatment of unwed Chinese mothers in depression era Seattle is deplorable.  We also see how women are belittled by all the traditional men in their lives.

So the story was good and I did want to read it through to the end but somehow it just didn't jump out and grab me.

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