Monday, January 13, 2020

Review: Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

Are you the kind of person who wishes on a falling star or when you blow on a dandelion gone to seed or as you blow out birthday candles? If you are, would you be shocked to have your wish come true? Would you believe it's a result of the magic of the wish or something more pragmatic? In Fiona Wood's charming YA novel, Cloudwish, the main character's wish comes true. Not only is this a novel of a little bit of "be careful what you wish for" and a touch of magic, but it's also a novel about life as a second generation Vietnamese-Australian, love, and coming to see, know, and value yourself.

Van Uoc is a scholarship student at a prestigious IB school. She is smart and talented but she is also incredibly aware of the difference between herself and the other, wealthy students at the school. Van Uoc is the child of Vietnamese immigrants who arrived in Australia as "boat people." They don't have a lot of money and live in government housing. She has to try to straddle life between being a regular Australian kid and being different because of her family's immigration history. She is her parents' main translator even though her Vietnamese is pretty poor and she tutors other kids in her situation after school on Fridays. She wants to be an artist rather than the doctor her parents want her to be. And problematically, she has a major crush on Billy Gardiner, the school golden boy. Billy can be arrogant and unthinking, a bit of a jerk really, but he is also sometimes sweet, he's incredibly good looking, and the captain of the rowing team. One day in English class, a visiting writer passes around a box of items as writing prompts. Van Uoc is left with the dregs of the box but eventually finds a small vial with a piece of paper in it. The paper tells her to make a wish. So she does, wishing that Billy will notice her. And he does. So is it a magic wish or is it Van Uoc? And really, does she even want the notoriety and angst that being with Billy is guaranteed to bring into her life, especially as a person who has tried to remain as unobtrusive as possible up until now?

Wood does a good job balancing Van Uoc's life at school and her life at home, showing the dichotomy she lives all the time and the way that it can isolate her from both communities to which she belongs. There is so much going on under the surface of the story here. The reader learns about the reality of immigration alongside Van Uoc since she's been mostly protected from her parents' story. She doesn't quite understood her mother's PTSD until her mother finally tells her the truth about the horror of their immigration story. Early in the book, in keeping with the idea of the creative writing class, Van Uoc writes some essays that tell the unvarnished truth of her experience and life but then selecting all and deleting them. It is an effective way to show the truth of her feelings since her actions don't always do so but Wood does stop peppering these essays in the text as the novel goes on. Van Uoc as a character is quite sympathetic and while she sometimes comes across as the perfect girl/daughter, she's still lovely to spend time with. The novel as a whole comes across as honest and hopeful while still presenting things as they really are.  More than just a love story, this is a novel of identity.  It doesn't shy away from class differences, the reality (and causes) of immigration, and of the expectations placed on second generation kids. Wood has written a novel that will make her YA audience relate and think both.

1 comment:

I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

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