I think Jamie Ford set the bar pretty high when he wrote his first book, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet; so I was a little nervous to read his next one, hoping not to be disappointed. Ford goes back a little further this time, to the beginnings of the Depression, but again his story weaves the past into the future. Seattle remains the setting, and Ford evokes a desperate time in a lively city. The future in this book is only thirteen years ahead, so the situation then is only a little less grim. Again, there are elements of fact to the story — many of the names of the people in the circuit who travel with performer Willow Frost are real — but the story is fiction, and has a smaller scope than his previous novel. Twelve-year old William has been living in Sacred Heart Orphanage for years, and has been led to believe he has no family. When Willow Frost returns to town with her cabaret act, William discovers his past is not as black and white as he once thought.
I did really like this book, though I did not find it as gripping as the first one. I think the fact that the story shifted between the two times (with a different point of view for each – Willow and William) that it was easier to put down at the end of a chapter. I also think that the previous book’s theme – the internment of the Japanese — is the type of title that we all feel is important, because we have a collective guilt about the abhorrent things that were done in the name of public safety. Likewise, in this book, the author offers us perspective on the culture of the times — the general public’s prejudice toward the Chinese, (even Chinese Americans), as well as that community’s views toward a single mother who tries to care for her child. Within the Chinese community itself, there were severe prejudices against people who chose to be performers, especially women.
The story was beautifully written, though a bit slow. At times, I felt that William’s voice was too old for his age; or that his actions proved the opposite, and this was distracting from the story. There were some beautiful moments, along with some unbelievable ones as well. The minor characters often had moments of brilliance, and I felt that many of them were real; I just wanted a bit more. These are just my petty opinions though, because you will enjoy reading this book, and it will be, I think, time well spent.