Wednesday, October 30, 2013

9 Heart Review and Giveaway: Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford

Songs of Willow Frost
Jamie Ford

Page Count: 304

Release Date: September 10th 2013
Publisher: Ballantine Books (Random House)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher via tour publicist in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Random House and TLC!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Twelve-year-old William Eng, a Chinese-American boy, has lived at Seattle’s Sacred Heart Orphanage ever since his mother’s listless body was carried away from their small apartment five years ago. On his birthday—or rather, the day the nuns designate as his birthday—William and the other orphans are taken to the historical Moore Theatre, where William glimpses an actress on the silver screen who goes by the name of Willow Frost. Struck by her features, William is convinced that the movie star is his mother, Liu Song.

Determined to find Willow, and prove his mother is still alive, William escapes from Sacred Heart with his friend Charlotte. The pair navigates the streets of Seattle, where they must not only survive, but confront the mysteries of William’s past and his connection to the exotic film star. The story of Willow Frost, however, is far more complicated than the Hollywood fantasy William sees onscreen.

Shifting between the Great Depression and the 1920s, Songs of Willow Frost takes readers on an emotional journey of discovery. Jamie Ford’s sweeping book will resonate with anyone who has ever longed for the comforts of family and a place to call home.
Maybe it was his imagination. Or perhaps he was daydreaming once again. But William knew he had to meet [Willow Frost] in person, because he had once known her by another name—he was sure of it. With his next-door neighbors in Chinatown, she went by Liu Song, but he'd simply called her Ah-ma. He had to say those words again. He had to know if she'd hear his voice—if she'd recognize him from five long years away.

On an outing to Seattle's Moore Theatre, 12-year-old William Eng—the only Chinese-American orphan at Sacred Heart—is stunned to catch onscreen, the familiar face of well-admired actress and "Oriental beauty," Willow Frost, whom he, five years ago, knew by another name: mother.

Songs of Willow Frost is a sensationally crafted novel that follows William's search for his carefully buried roots, spurned by the kind of familial longing only known as a child's unconditional love, and the ghosts and demons of his mother's past that he discovers along the way. The narrative shifts between the Great Depression and the technological revolution of the early 1920s, offering both William's real, raw perspective of Chinese-American life, as well as Liu Song's shining voice—her invaluable song.

There are just so many things I loved about this book! It's distressing how I can't list them all off at the same time, but I'll begin with the characters. William's naïveté is tender, and will make your heart ache. At once hopeful and painfully mature, his narrative gives rich glimpses of what it must have been like to be an abandoned child during the Great Depression—who were dubbed "orphans" like he was, and were not at all uncommon during this time—and is so emotionally well rendered. Liu Song is the character who has committed a mother's most atrocious crime by abandoning her child, but once her side of the story is told—and with it, William's mysterious past unraveled—we see nothing but the compromised woman with a crushing sadness, the brave, beautiful performer who sacrificed everything to salvage her son. While William's story is profound, Liu Song's is haunting, debilitating. She is so real and so human; I related to her in so many ways, which is the magic of her complex and alluring characterization in that she is exonerated because we as readers want to forgive her—we want to understand.

Ford effectively evokes the glamor of pre-Depression 1921, which enshrouded the magic of theatre and the rise of the radio star, and even transitioning to later years, conveys the grayness of the Great Depression in tandem with the emergence of Hollywood's Golden Era—which is to say, film over theatre, or Willow Frost over Liu Song. I am amazed at how culturally rich and historically vibrant Ford's Seattle Chinatown is; I lived, breathed, and loved these characters and this setting.

The story is also extremely stylistically impressive; Ford writes with great sensitivity and deep beauty in the tenderest way that induces shivers and raises goosebumps. In Willow's distraught confession, plea for forgiveness, and imminent personal departure, her past's troubles, her largest of sacrifices, and ultimately, her desire to rise up from cowering behind the façades of both the stage and screen, are intimately, agonizingly revealed... all in order to give everything to the one person she will never cease to love: her son.

Pros


Breathtaking historical scenery—colorful and lush descriptions of 1920s- and 30s-era Seattle // William and Willow are gorgeously characterized; both are lovable AND complex // Intriguing story with unique backdrop // Insight into both early 20th-century Chinese culture and Chinese-American expectations // Lovely in style... I could read Jamie Ford's prose forever! // Poignant, heartbreaking // Evocative of a mother's love; well-developed (albeit convoluted) mother-son relationship portrayed

Cons


Occasionally, scenes dragged out and grew boring, but this was not that big of a problem for me, and it was mostly just in the beginning

Love

[Liu Song] saw the triumphant jockey riding his Thoroughbred to the winner's circle. The small man was clad in leather and silk, with whip in hand. Liu Song grimaced when she saw the welts on the horse's back and foreleg. She ached for the exhausted horse as she watched its muscles twitch and could smell the sweat and fear. She felt Leo's hand on her backside and was jealous of the blinders the horse wore. She wished she had something similar to shut out the world.

Verdict


Lacerating, expressive, and beautifully melancholic, Jamie Ford's long-anticipated second novel unfalteringly trails young William Eng as he determinedly sets out to unearth a slew of family secrets and a home for his perpetually expectant heart. With stunning insight on a desolate, but regardless exquisite mother-child relationship, and magnificent attention to period detail, Songs of Willow Frost is a stirring, tumultuous, and ultimately triumphant story of one mother's struggle to stay afloat under immense societal scrutiny and Chinese-influenced expectation, and how although that survival may become her weakness and her desperation, it will never diminish her overwhelming love Americanflag

9 hearts: Loved it! This book has a spot on my favorites shelf (x)

Giveaway!


Okay, guys, here's the exciting part. The publisher has been kind enough to offer one finished PRINT copy of Songs of Willow Frost to a
 very lucky Books à la Mode reader, which means one of y'all will get to read this fabulous book!!! Leave a comment on my review for the chance to win. Be sure to leave your email address so I know who to contact when I draw a winner! Only meaningful comments will go into the contest, which means irrelevant comments consisting of only "Thanks for the giveaway" will not count as an entry!!!


Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the publisher and tour publicist—a huge thank you to Random House and TLC Book Tours!
Giveaway ends November 12th at 11.59 PM (your time).

Open to US readers only. Sorry, everyone else! Check out my sidebar where you'll find a list of giveaways that currently are running internationally—there are plenty to choose from!
Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
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Good luck!