Twelve-year-old William Eng has lived for five years at the Sacred Heart orphanage in Seattle. It’s 1934, and many children live there, being taken care of by nuns even if they’re not strictly orphans because so many parents simply can’t provide for their children in the difficult economic times. His best friends are much like him, living on the fringes because they are different; he is Chinese-American; Sunny is part Cherokee, and Charlotte is blind.
They don’t have much, but on the boys’ collective birthday they get a few treats; one, they get to go see a movie. There, on the Follies reel, William sees a beautiful newcomer with an angelic voice, and he is sure that it is his own mother, his ah-ma. What’s particularly interesting is the information that the performers will be making a tour stop in Seattle, including Willow Frost.
William decides he must go find her, and he escapes the orphanage with Charlotte to go to the theater where the show is happening. There he does find Willow, and he and readers then learn about her story, the book taking us into her past and switching back and forth with her and William’s present.
Willow’s life has been difficult, and she’s had to make some tough decisions in some no-win situations. Those she’s loved have left and been unable to help her. So as Willow and William meet, two Chinese-Americans living on the fringes of society, the question becomes: can they find a happily-ever-after?
Songs of Willow Frost is a lovely story but one that is full of sadness and unfairness. It’s a fine window into its time and place, a reminder that women and minorities had few rights. Readers who enjoyed Ford’s first book, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, will likely enjoy this one as well.
Rated: Moderate, for a few mild off-color references, and some non-detailed rape scenes (it would really be a mild but for the simple fact of knowing that these disturbing things happened to a character).