Songs of Willow Frost (Ford)

Songs of Willow Frost 
Jamie Ford, 2013
Random House
352 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780345522030

Set against the backdrop of Depression-era Seattle, Songs of Willow Frost is a powerful tale of two souls—a boy with dreams for his future and a woman escaping her haunted past—both seeking love, hope, and forgiveness.

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 that his mother is still alive, William escapes from Sacred Heart with his friend Charlotte. The pair navigate 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 novel will resonate with anyone who has ever longed for the comforts of family and a place to call home. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—July 9, 1968
Born—Eureka, California, USA
Raised—Ashland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington, USA
Education—Art Institute of Seattle
Awards—Asian/Pacific American Award-Best Adult Fiction
Currently—lives in Montana

Jamie Ford is an American author. He is best known for his debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. The book received positive reviews after its release, and was also awarded best "Adult Fiction" book at the 2010 Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature. The book was also named the #1 Book Club Pick for Fall 2009/Winter 2010 by the American Booksellers Association.

Ford was born in Eureka, California, but grew up in Ashland, Oregon, and Port Orchard and Seattle, Washington. His father, a Seattle native, is of Chinese ancestry, while Ford’s mother is of European descent.

His Western last name "Ford" comes from his great grandfather, Min Chung (1850-1922), who immigrated to Tonopah, Nevada in 1865 and later changed his name to William Ford. Ford's great grandmother, Loy Lee Ford, was the first Chinese woman to own property in Nevada.

Ford earned a degree in Design from the Art Institute of Seattle and also attended Seattle’s School of Visual Concepts.

Ford is best known for his debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. The book received positive reviews after its release, and was also awarded best “Adult Fiction” book at the 2010 Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature.

In 2013, he released his second book, Songs of Willow Frost, and his third, Love and Other Consolation Prizes in 2017.

His stories have also been included in Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology and the The Apocalypse Triptych, a series of three anthologies of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey. (Excerpted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 2/28/2017 .)

Book Reviews
[Ford's] new work depicts another star-crossed romance, but the real love here is between mother and son. On a movie outing, William Eng, a Chinese American boy at the repressive Sacred Heart Orphanage in 1930s Seattle, sees the beautiful actress Willow Frost on-screen and is convinced that she is his mother.... He finds her quickly...then hears her plaintive tale.... Writing in simple, unaffected language befitting both William and the young Willow, Ford delivers a tale his fans will certainly relish. —Barbara Hoffert
Library Journal

William awakens to yet another morning of beatings for bed-wetters at the Sacred Heart orphanage. In 1931, lots of children have been orphaned or left with the sisters because their parents could not care for them.... [He] joins the other boys on a trip to the theater. Just before the movie begins, a beautiful woman appears on screen.... Soon, William and his best friend, Charlotte...concoct a plan to escape the orphanage and find the mysterious singer named Willow Frost.... Ford writes of American life in the 1920s and '30s, bustling with go-getters and burdened with trampled masses.... A heartbreaking yet subdued story.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. William’s life at Sacred Heart is, he feels, a hard one. Do you agree? In the long run, do the caregivers at Sacred Heart do more to help or harm their young wards?

2. The orphans at Sacred Heart share a collective “birthday,” one for boys and one for girls. What would it be like to celebrate such an event? Would it feel less special without a focus on the individual, or even more joyful to share it with a community?

3. On May 4, 1931, the first bookmobile hit the streets of Seattle, where it did indeed visit the historical Sacred Heart Orphanage (as well as Boeing Field). Why do you think there was such a need to bring the library to its patrons, rather than allowing those patrons to visit the library as they chose?

4. What qualities does Liu Song share with her mother? How are their lives similar or different?

5. Does Liu Song’s mother represent strength, weakness, or a little of both? Do you think she knew she was a second wife?

6. Why doesn’t Liu Song study Cantonese Opera instead of pursuing a career in film and stage?

7. What do you think happened to Mr. Butterfield after the loss of his music store? Personally and professionally, how would he react to Liu Song’s newfound fame as Willow?

8. Imagine that you are Liu Song and pregnant under her circumstances. What would you do? Who might you tell? And would you keep the baby?

9. The novel explores the subject of abandonment, whether by willful desertion or by circumstance. What forms does such abandonment take among contemporary families?

10. In the time period the novel is set in, economic and social classes were clearly defined, and while change was desired by some, it was feared by others. Do you think the time we live in today is more just and fair, or are we in fact worse off?

11. The social worker Mrs. Peterson represents an outside authority at a time when mothers had fewer rights to their children than fathers. When did that begin to change and why?

12. During the early years of the silent-film era, studios and production companies could be found in most states. So why had much of the film industry congregated in Hollywood a decade later?

13. What factors contributed to the eventual demise of the grand movie palaces of the 1920s and ’30s?

14. Willow always knew where her son was, so why didn’t she come back sooner, especially as she gained success?

15. Why does Willow die in all of her films?

16. How do you think Charlotte’s death impacted Sister Briganti?

17. In the end, Willow comes back for William. What do you think happened to them after the novel’s conclusion? What happened to her career?

18. Overall, do you think the story is one of hope and promise or suffering and sacrifice?

We'll add specific questions if and when they're made available by the publisher.

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