Saturday, 27 July 2013

Review - Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford

Jamie Ford does it again.  I adored Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet, Jamie Ford‘s first novel, with its tender love story holding its own against a vividly drawn background of war and racial tension.  I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but this novel steps it up another gear – if I wept at the first book, this one really had me in pieces. Again, the background is vast, but the focus is on a small story in the middle of it all.

There are two linked story threads, separated by time. In 1931, William is 12 and a long-term resident at the Sacred Heart orphanage near Seattle. This is a harsh environment of beatings and grub-ridden food: but this is the children’s birthday (an arbitrary one, based on the Pope’s birthday), so the children are given a present from home and a trip to the movie theatre.  William’s “gift” is the news that his mother was taken to a sanatorium when doctors refused to care for her – both William and his mother are Chinese. At the theatre, William recognises the singer on the screen – known as Willow Frost – as his mother, and so begins his search for her, accompanied by his blind but clear-sighted friend Charlotte. The other thread is Willow’s story - one of persecution, prejudice, and survival by any means available.

This is a really heartbreaking read, told in a simple and straightforward storytelling style that I found quite mesmerising. It’s an easy read in some ways, but in others extremely difficult – there are some moments almost too painful to read on. William is a brilliantly drawn character – engaging and old beyond his years, but vulnerable and loveable too. Willow is also a strong character, singing at a sheet music store to support her child and surviving the most dreadful privations at home. 

Despite the immense sadness the book manages to tread a difficult line to remain well on the right side of desperation, and Jamie Ford’s wonderfully simple prose and rich descriptions - that bring 20s and 30s Seattle to life - shine throughout.  Without a shadow of a doubt, this is one of my books of the year so far – don’t miss it.  

My thanks to netgalley and Random House for the advance reading e-copy. This book will be released in the UK on 10th September 2013 by Allison and Busby.


  1. Oooh! thanks for bringing this to my attention, Anne. Must put on my wish list - I loved her first novel too.

  2. And I think you'd love this one too Susan. Have to break it to you though - Jamie Ford is a man! xx

    1. Noooooo! Well, well, well. Very emotive writing style, which sort of fooled me, but really I just presumed that he was a she because so many American names are for both sexes, and this is one of them. Thank you Anne and Sorry, Jamie!

  3. I loved the first book Anne and can't wait to read this one, I've just received a copy and very excited after reading your review!