Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

Cloudwish by Fiona Wood is contemporary YA novel about a Vietnamese-Australian girl at the start of year eleven. Born to parents who came to Australia as refugees and who still live in a Housing Commission flat, she's on a scholarship to a fancy private school. It's a situation ripe for the exploration of cultural and class divides.

For Vân Ước Phan, fantasies fall 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 Ước 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?

This is the first book I've read by Fiona Wood, although I was very keen to read Wildlife, and I still intend to. (Stay tuned.) It's about Vân Ước's first few weeks (monthish?) in year eleven. She has to navigate the tricky landscape of strict parents, an increased workload, conflicted feelings about her future, the cultural clashes that come from living in a white-Anglo-centric culture while not being Anglo, and boys.

Her relationship with her parents was probably the most interesting story within this book. They are typically strict and uncompromising in their desire for Vân Ước to do well at school and have a good and affluent life like they couldn't. They have strong aspirations for her to become a doctor and make enough money for them all to live in a nice house in Kew. But they also don't speak English very well and so rely on Vân Ước to be their language and cultural translator, whether that involves school forms or doctor's instructions. Vân Ước realises she lives in a different world to her parents, not just because she goes to a private school now, but also because she speaks English like a native while her Vietnamese is not as good as her parents'. They can communicate, but the question of whether they can ever truly understand where the other is coming from is raised. This is further exacerbated by the fact that they haven't spoken to Vân Ước much about their experiences getting to Australia/escaping Vietnam and Vân Ước feels like this is a barrier between them. As Vân Ước's relationship with them, and especially her mother, shifts throughout the book as she learns more. If anything I was hoping that story would keep going a bit longer when the book ended because I really wanted to know what happened next.

The story, however, is framed around Vân Ước's boy drama, as you may have gathered from the blurb. In the first class of the year she idly wishes that the popular boy she has a crush on would like her back and then is shocked when he appears to. The romantic storyline was amusing and a nice twist on the whole boy/girl thing since Vân Ước spends a lot of time doubting its veracity. I didn't especially like or dislike Billy, her love interest, but he fit into the story well as privileged rich boy with a bit more depth under the surface.

The one thing that annoyed me about this book was that Wood got a key detail of the IB programme wrong. We know that Vân Ước studies English, French, Physics, Maths and Art and we are giving to believe she's also taking Chemistry. Since her parents want her to be a doctor, it would make sense that she'd take the necessary Chemistry to put off confronting her parents about wanting to become an artist, which seems in character. And chemistry is mentioned a few times. But the problem is, you can't do two sciences and an art in IB. You have to give up an art to do the second science. And she doesn't have a humanity. So it's kind of a minor thing, but the fact that she does art is pretty crucial to the plot and the fact that the author overlooked this detail really bothered me since she'd got other details like CAS and TOK right. And I realise it's an annoyance that probably won't bother most people, but irritated me enough to write a ranty paragraph. YMMV.

On the topic of random details, I absolutely loved that Vân Ước had a lot of angst about casual clothes day. Although my problems weren't quite as acute as hers, I didn't have a huge amount of non-school uniform clothes when I was in high school and it was always a balance of trying to remember what I wore last time and what would be the most acceptable thing to wear this time. (If you're wondering, I am 100% pro school uniforms and find it weird that other countries don't have them.)

Cloudwish was an excellent read and I highly recommend it to all YA fans, especially fans of real world, contemporary stories. I always love reading Australian-set stories, especially ones which feature Melbourne, my home city. (Although that can also be a bit of a detriment since I'm a little baffled as to where the imaginary school is — pretty sure the walk to Kew is shorter so why didn't she sit for those scholarships? Ahem.) If you enjoy realistic YA then definitely read Cloudwish. I will definitely be reading Wood's other books.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: September 2015, Pan Macmillan
Series: Sort of? Set in the same universe/school as Wildlife and Six Impossible Things but with a different main character. In that sense, book 3 of 3 but since I read it first that's not an important attribute
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

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