***I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group-Ballantine Books******
This is the first time I have read anything by Jamie Ford but I plan to change this pretty quickly. This book has so many layers to it that I am not sure how to begin. It is a romance, a drama, and a glimpse into American history in the early 1900's. The book is based on the true story of a boy named Ernest who was raffled off at the 1909 World's Fair.
The story starts with a 5 year old half Chinese boy witnessing his mother commit a truly violent act. The boy and his mother are starving. She wants to give her son the chance to have a better life so she sends him to America with a group of human traffickers/slave traders. Ernest finds himself on a boat with other Chinese and Japanese boys and girls on their way to be mail order brides, laborers, and some other very unsavory positions. He meets the first girl he will ever love on this boat. Once in Washington, Ernest finds himself bouncing from 1 boarding house to another. He has a benefactor at his last boarding house and he decides that he should ask her if he can be released to make his own way in the world. She has other plans and Ernest finds himself at the 1909 World's Fair being raffled off like some sort of prize. He is taken in by a madame at a very high end brothel in the red light district. Ernest begins to embrace and even love his new life as a driver for the house. He also has 2 girls that he has fallen deeply in love with. Ernest, Fahn, and Maisie form an unbreakable bond that helps them navigate through some pretty tough scenarios.
This book is so well written that the reader begins to feel what the characters do as the author tackles tough subjects like human trafficking, physical abuse, mental illness, and prostitution. The chapters are set up so that each one just about is set in a different time period ranging from Ernest in the present (1960's) to Ernest in his childhood/teenage years (1900's). The fact that a lot of places and events in the book are real as well as the overall treatment of immigrants speaks volumes on the American mindset at the time. I enjoyed this book very much. I actually plan to add a physical copy to my bookcase. My final thought: 5/5 stars.