Title: Cloudwish (2015)
Author: Fiona Wood
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Extent: 228 pages
Release Date: September 1, 2015
Vân Uoc doesn’t believe in fairies, zombies, vampires, Father Christmas – or magic wishes. She believes in keeping a low profile: real life will start when school finishes. But when she attracts the attention of Billy Gardiner, she finds herself in an unwelcome spotlight. Not even Jane Eyre can help her now.
Wishes were not a thing. They were not.
Correction. Wishes were a thing. Wishes that came true were sometimes a thing.
Wishes that came true because of magic were not a thing! Were they?
I’ve actually had Cloudwish on my TBR for about a year and forgot about it until I accidentally happened upon it on one of my weekend library runs. I took it home without much consideration, thinking that I’d just drop it if it didn’t jive with me… but then I started the book and fell into the story so hard, I just found myself loving it. The blurb and cover might package the book as a cute, sweet love story, but it is so, so much more (and better!) than that.
Vân Uoc is the Australian-born daughter of Vietnamese refugees who came to Australia by boat. She lives in a housing commission flat with both her parents, who barely speak English, always push her to study, and are generally super traditional and strict. On a free-writing assignment from class, she picks up a seemingly magical vial, wishes that rich, popular jock Billy Gardiner would notice her, and voila, he starts to pursue her romantically.
“She wished, with a quick, hard ache of impossibility, that Billy Gardiner liked her. More than liked her. Preferred her to all the other girls in the school. All the other girls in the world. Found her… fascinating.”
I know what you’re thinking: it sounds like a cliche, Reg. But it’s just so, so much better than that, because beyond the romance, which was sweet and adorable and believable, this book is an exploration of so many important themes: family and parent-child relationships, immigration and belonging, social class difference, race and culture, what it’s like being the transitional generation, etc.
Part of the reason why I enjoyed Cloudwish so much, I admit, is because it speaks to me on a personal level. The book is set in Melbourne and it feels like Melbourne; I recognised pretty much all the streets named and loved the little details included. A lot of Vân Uoc’s personal debate on how to balance her own wants and her parents’ wants? Her guilt because they’ve sacrificed so much so she could succeed? The cultural barrier between her and her parents? Yep, I have felt — and still feel, even as an adult — those things too.
Wood also addresses the little things that not a lot of people seem to notice. Case in point, here’s an excerpt of Vân Uoc reading Jane Eyre to learn English:
“After weeks of ploughing and hesitating, something clicked; she stopped stumbling over the unknown words and long sentences. Words magically started to reveal meaning, most of the time anyway, through context. And the sentences themselves stopped being obstacles and started telling a story. Her eyes were racing ahead; she was comprehending the shape and rhythm of the language.”
Now, as far as my knowledge Cloudwish is not an #OwnVoices book (CMIIW), but I was very, very impressed by how authentic, believable and relatable it is. It’s obvious to me that Wood did a lot of research and tried her best to deliver to her readers a diverse tale that is sensitive and true to its themes.
“She wanted more than survival. She wanted beauty; she wanted love; she wanted abundance. Why was it okay for everyone around her to have more than enough, but she had to be content for less?”
The things I didn’t like were miniscule: the ending was rushed and abrupt, meaning that there were quite a lot of loose strings left untied. In the end, though, Wood’s writing has a very strong, unique voice to it: quiet, introspective, even a little melancholic, and I can’t help but to think that Cloudwish will be one of my favourite #LoveOzYA reads of the year.