Jamie Ford made a name for himself with his debut novel, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Some authors experience what's known as the sophomore slump, which finds a lack-luster, rushed, and/or overlooked second novel following a debut which was published to critical acclaim. This is absolutely not the case for Ford's second venture, Songs of Willow Frost.
What starts as the sad tale of a Chinese American boy who finds himself in a Seattle orphanage after his mother's body is carried away from their apartment becomes so much deeper and more complicated. William Eng has been in the orphanage for more than half of his life when, on an outing to a movie theater, he catches a glimpse of an actress who so resembles his mother, he is moved to run away from the good sisters who run the orphanage and, accompanied by another runaway, travel to meet the actress, Willow Frost, in a local appearance. The story then shifts between the Great Depression and the 1920s as readers fall back into the long and complicated past of Willow Frost, a story full of joy and of tragedy, loneliness and good fortune.
I dare not give away anything more, but I can say that I loved Ford's ability to wring every drop of emotion from a scene, each painted deftly but clearly, evoking mood and local color with every word. Beautiful, heartbreaking, and bittersweet to the very end. I cannot recommend this enough.