Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

For Vân Uoc Phan, fantasies fell into two categories: nourishing, or pointless. Daydreaming about Billy Gardiner, for example? Pointless. It always left her feeling sick, as though she'd eaten too much sugar.

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.
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 read Cloudwish immediately after I read Alice Pung's Laurinda, which happened entirely by accident and was possibly a bad thing, because they were similar enough that I was constantly making comparisons as I read Cloudwish. Both novels about ridiculously smart girls attending private schools on scholarships, growing up Asian in Australia, acting as go-betweens for their migrant parents and the wider world, and working out their identities in the weird, complex realm of their schools. The similarity between these two novels diverges at the point where magic gets involved in Cloudwish.

The fact that a magical wish is so central to the plot of Cloudwish made it unreal; Laurinda was entirely of our world, which made it feel wholly authentic. So while I'd recommend both novels (and I am writing a review of Laurinda, so I won't go into too much detail about it here), Cloudwish is for readers after a more enchanting, romantic story, while Laurinda is more realistic. That said, Cloudwish does deal with real-world issues with a lot of tact and thoughtfulness (including asylum seekers), so it's more wonderful contemporary YA plus a bit of the unreal.

Cloudwish occurs in the same universe as Fiona Wood's two previous novels, Six Impossible Things and Wildlife; Vân Uoc attends Crowthorne Grammar, and familiar characters appear in this novel. You will of course love it if you enjoyed either of Wood's previous novels. Vân Uoc is a wonderful narrator. She is strong and smart and fierce. She was especially engaging in the sequences written in first-person; while most of the novel is written in third, I felt a little distant from her at times (especially because she is so smart).

I loved reading about a character who is Vietnamese-Australian, and the depiction of her family life, particularly her relationship with her mother, felt honest throughout. One of the most wonderful things about fiction is being able to read about people different from yourself, and to learn and empathise, and obviously this isn't possible if you're a middle-class white kid reading about middle-class white kids all the time. I would love to see more novels that represent how multicultural Australia actually is, and feature non-white protagonists.

I did not find Billy Gardiner an especially compelling love interest (you are way too good for him, Vân Uoc!), but found the exploration of their relationship engaging. It's different to how many relationships are drawn in YA fiction; it had a definite realism to it, despite the fact it was based off a magic wish. The complexity of socio-economic and cultural differences between them was well-depicted.

Cloudwish is a beautiful novel. The sort that makes you feel a little demoralised because you know you'll never write a novel so good. And by you I mean me. It's a romantic, magical, heart-warming contemporary YA, that's still real and down-to-earth. It's about identity and finding your place and accepting that good things can just happen. It's just really, really lovely.

('Cloudwish' keeps auto-correcting to 'Cloddish'... which makes no sense. When do I ever need to use the word 'Cloddish'? Now I've looked at the word Cloddish, I mean Cloudwish, so many times that it makes absolutely no sense and the letters 'ou' seem very strange to me.)

Cloudwish on the publisher's website.
Proudly designed by Mlekoshi playground