By Mary Burns
Between the Covers 

Novel details orphan's quest

"Songs of Willow Frost" by Jamie Ford


This is the author's second novel, his first being the award-winning Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Both are set in Seattle and draw on Jamie Ford's Chinese heritage and knowledge of Seattle's Japanese and Chinese communities.

Twelve-year-old William Eng has been in Sacred Heart Orphanage for five years, ever since his mother was taken away, lifeless. The boys in the Seattle-area orphanage all celebrate their birthdays on the same day each year, as it's easier for the Sisters to remember; and this year, their special treat is a trip to the cinema.

While being "outside" is an adventure in itself, William is enthralled by a woman on the theater's screen, a Chinese songstress who is also from the Seattle area. She has a beautiful voice; and the boy imagines that he remembers that voice, and so she must be his mother. Her stage name is Willow Frost. William believes that her real name is Liu Song, his "ah-ma", who loved him and sang to him often.

His new belief that his ah-ma is alive, and his desire to find her, is both complicated and abetted by his friendship with Charlotte, also an "orphan" who has been blind from birth. She has reached an age where she knows she'll be sent to an institution for the blind, to do some dreary thing day after endless day. She approaches her friend with the idea of escaping from the orphanage together. And so they do. Guts, determination, and a plan are all they seem to need.

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This is a beautiful story of hope, of searching for what you want and yearn to find. For William, it was finding that "Willow Frost" translates to Liu Song.


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