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Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

Cloudwish (2015)

by Fiona Wood

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4.5 really. Really liked this book. It reminded of Looking for Alibrandi by Malina Marchetta (another great Australian coming of age book). The themes of identity, independence from parents, responsibility and expectations are handled well. Many topical subjects - particularly race / refugees - would make this an ideal book for secondary schools. Highly recommend for 13 ( )
  SashaM | Apr 20, 2016 |
A companion-novel/sequel to Fiona Wood's Wildlife, about a classmate of Lou and Sibylla's, Van Uoc Phan.

Van Uoc doesn't feel like she fits in at her fancy private school - she's stuck "in the dumpbin category of scholarship/poor/smart/Asian". So she's not sure what to do when the boy she has a crush on - the rich, popular, school rowing champion - Billy Gardiner suddenly starts paying attention to her.

Cloudwish is about dealing with family expectations, and the challenges of not fitting in. It's about privilege, and friendship, and finding your voice. It's in the Melina Marchetta / Jaclyn Moriarty / Randa Abdel-Fattah vein of Australian YA.
There are quite a lot of references - and even a few strong parallels - to Jane Eyre, Van Uoc's favourite book. And some of the writing is really lovely and evocative.

But - I expected to love Cloudwish more than I did. There's something a bit reserved about this third person narrative, compared with the compelling first person voices of Lou and Sibylla in Wildlife (or of Jane in Jane Eyre, but that's a less fair comparison).

Although, having said that - that reserve is quite appropriate. Because Van Uoc is reserved. At school, she is determined to blend in, to say as little as possible.
She's reserved with her parents, too. Her parents speak little English, while her Vietnamese is basic - and she has assimilated to Australian culture in a way they have not. So she can't confide in them about school, or her dreams of pursuing art rather than the medical career they want for her. And her parents won't speak to her about their experiences as refugees... It's a complicated relationship in which her parents try to protect Van Uoc and she tries to protect them.
Fortunately for Van Uoc, her best friend lives in the next flat.

I loved Van Uoc. The reserve didn't stop me from connecting with, and caring about, her.

This book just didn't have the same emotional intensity of Wildlife.

Still, recommended.

She was going to be arriving at Billy's party underdressed, too early, in a van that said Bao Mac's Happy Chickens with graphics of, yes, very happy-looking cartoon chickens painted on its sides [...] Before this moment of new hell, the van had only ever been a vague philosophical conundrum: how could the chickens be happy, given that they were dead and destined for the dinner table? Now, it had been transformed into a weapon of torture for her personal mortification. She was spending a night in reverse-Cinderella land. ( )
  Herenya | Mar 31, 2016 |
Cloudwish is a delightful new contemporary young adult novel from Fiona Wood, author of Six Impossible Things and Wildlife.

Asked to choose a prop for a creative writing assignment, Vân Uoc Phan selects a small glass vial. Inside, a slip of paper says wish. Vân Uoc considers the possibilities, she could wish not be the only ‘scholarship/poor/smart/Asian’ in her privileged private school, or that the government would stop persecuting asylum seekers, but Vân Uoc’s most private and fervent wish, is for Billy Gardiner to like her.

Readers familiar with Wildlife might recognise Vân Uoc and Billy for their role in the book as minor characters.
Vân Uoc is the only daughter of Vietnamese refugees, she lives in a housing commission flat, attending the prestigious Crowthorne Grammar on an academic scholarship. She is quiet and studious, her parents expect she will become a doctor or a lawyer, though Vân Uoc dreams of becoming an artist.
Billy Gardiner is Crowthorne Grammar’s golden boy, he is smart but takes very little seriously. One of the first eight on the successful school rowing team, the son of wealthy parents, he takes his privilege for granted in a way Vân Uoc never can.

When Billy suddenly takes notice of her, Vân Uoc assumes she is being set up for a joke but as his attention persists, she begins to wonder if a wish really can come true. The ensuing relationship between Vân Uoc and Billy is sweet and believable, deftly handled by the author within the context of the story.

But this is not just a story about a teen romance, throughout the story, Wood sensitively explores the experience of diversity in all its forms with a focus on socioeconomic, racial and cultural difference. Vân Uoc keenly feels the divide between herself and her classmates, she can’t afford designer jeans or even a cup of coffee after school, her free time is limited to spending Friday nights watching movies in her neighbours flat, and she has responsibilities they can’t imagine. Vân Uoc is also haunted by her parents experiences as refugees. Though she knows few of the details, her mother’s annual slide into depression suggests unimaginable horrors.

With references to Jane Eyre, Vân Uoc’s idol, and Pretty in Pink, Australian politics and the legitimacy of asylum seekers, mean girls, Chapel Street, and magic, Cloudwish is a wonderfully observed and heartfelt Australian story about identity, belonging, love, and dreams.

“Jane had all the answers. Of course she did. When had she ever let Vân Uoc down? It struck her like a proverbial bolt from the blue that within Jane Eyre’s framework of realism – of social commentary on class, on charity schools, on imperious rich relations, on gender equality and the restricted opportunity for women, on love and morality…there was also some mad magic.” ( )
  shelleyraec | Sep 22, 2015 |
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