Benbrook Library / Books

Patron Review: Songs of Willow Frost


This week, we have a guest post from Billie D., a library patron and BARC participant. In order to fulfill the requirements of the “Everyone’s a Critic” task, Billie has written a summary/review of Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford. Be warned: the following write-up is chock-full o’ spoilers. Many thanks to Billie for providing content. Here is her review:

(It was) a painful time in our country when racism affected Chinese-Americans in Seattle, Washingon. More so for orphans, single moms, and out-of-work Depression folks (1929-1934).

            William, a Chinese 12 year-old boy, has been at the Sacred Heart Orphanage for five years. He knows this because all birthdays are celebrated each year on the same day.

            The nuns do have field trips, movie days, or library days to partially make life less boring, and it is on one of these movie days William decides that the singer/actress is his long-lost mom. The nuns had informed him his mom had gone to an asylum and never got out.

            So begins his plans to leave Sacred Heart and go look for his mom, when Charlotte, a blind-from-birth girl, hears of his plan. She encourages him BUT is emphatic about going, too. Charlotte uses a cane but is quite self-sufficient.

            Thanks to the library book mobile, they escape under books and get off somewhere in Seattle to start wandering the streets looking for the theatre (where) William’s mom is performing.

            Amazingly they survive with money Charlotte had saved from birthday gifts and leftover bread crusts William had scavenged from the orphanage. Staying at a flophouse, they realize the orphanage beds and food aren’t too bad.

            When they arrive at the theatre, William finds a throw-away ad with Willow’s picture as the performer. He is more and more sure she is his mom. They decide to wait at the exit door to see the performers come out.

            When he finally sees Willow, they make eye contact, both aware of some connection. He asks for her autograph on the ad and she signs Liu Song (his mom’s name) rather than Willow Frost.

            She takes him to the room and proceeds to unveil why-how-when the abandonment occurred.

            His father is her “uncle” who raped her and he is the result. After living with the “uncle” she again becomes pregnant, loses the baby and is in the asylum to have a C-section and sterilized, when the social worker shows up. Willow has (the) choice of signing papers turning William over to the Sacred Heart, or the “uncle” will claim him as his. That’s when she signed him over to the orphanage rather than have her “uncle” raise him.

            Waiting for more info and questions answered, the door opens and it’s Sister B. and Charlotte. Someone told the nuns they’d run off and Sister knew where they’d be.

            (They are taken) back to the orphanage and make up time with chores.

            When Charlotte’s dad shows up to take her home, she tells William of his abuse and her preference to run away rather than go with her dad. Sacred Heart is happy to see the dad and is sending her with him. Charlotte chooses to hang herself rather than go.

            In a moment of guilt, sadness, or whatever, Sister B. takes William to her office, gives him his mom’s old letter and tokens for the trolley back to find her again at the old hotel they used to live in.

            The rest of the story includes his mom singing on the streets for money, a Chinese business man/actor finds her, they plan for a life together. When at a joint performance, the man’s Chinese fiancée shows up and he has to go back to the dying dad, take over the business, and (honor) the arranged marriage. Although he comes back to make her “the First Wife,” Willow backs off.

            (It) seems like (the) end of (the) story, (they) go see a movie, BUT at the end, she’s gone again!

            So back to the orphanage!

            Willow does not board the train to the next show – she stays at the train station, the troop says goodbye, then she goes back to the orphanage to claim her son.

            (What) took her so long? She had enough money and stability. Her self doubts? Maybe she felt William would never forgive her.

            This writer blends history, culture and family dynamics in this book as well as he did in the previous one, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Both books = excellent description of Chinese/American life in the U. S.

-Billie D.

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