Camarillo Reads is a program the local library puts on once a year where the whole city reads one book and meets together to discuss it. It’s like a city-wide book club. This year, the book featured was Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford. And I got to see Jamie Ford speak on his book!
In his lecture to the city of Camarillo, Ford discussed social media, teenagers, and becoming required reading in schools. “I grew up and became homework,” he apologized to the crowd. His previous book entitled Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is now a required book in some middle schools and high schools. His attitude on the way teenagers perceive him is so funny. He brought with him some actual tweets from teenagers claiming how depressing his book was and how they didn’t want to read it as homework.
This made him, and the audience, laugh.
Ford’s novels can be described as love stories, but a love different than romantic love. His stories are both heartbreaking and hopeful and deal a lot with family, love, loss, and growing up. In Songs of Willow Frost, the main character William lives in an orphanage, and upon going to a movie theater, thinks he recognizes his mother on screen. The story is his tale of discovery and heartbreak and learning why his mother had to give him up. When asked why Ford often writes about young protagonists, he replied that the age of 12 is when you first begin to experience adult emotions like love and loss.
Songs also has a common theme of female freedom and choice in the 1930s. The mother in the story does not have much choice regarding her child, because parental control lies with the father. So it’s the love story of a mother and her son and overcoming the obstacle of trying to reunite. Ford says that he loves to write in the perspective of the alpha female, and believes that this is an important role in storytelling. I couldn’t agree more!
Ford brings with him a great multicultural perspective, too. His stories dive deep into Chinese American culture and brings to life a past that was very real for second and third generation Chinese immigrants. Songs of Willow Frost takes place in Seattle in the 1920s and 30s, and serves as a great backdrop for stories of cultural and family identity.
It was a lot of fun to see him speak. Songs of Willow Frost was a great book, and I recommend it. While it is sad, it’s still worth it for the hope it instills. Ford said, “If I break your heart, I’d like to put it back together in better working order than it was before.”