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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

'Cloudwish' by Fiona Wood

From the BLURB:

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?

‘Cloudwish’ is the new contemporary young adult novel from Australian author Fiona Wood.

In case you don’t know by now, I’m kinda obsessed with Fiona Wood and her books. From her first ‘Six Impossible Things’ to the sublime ‘Wildlife’, Fiona has fast become one of my all-time favourite authors, and now with ‘Cloudwish’ she’s gone and written one of my all-time favourite Aussie YA characters in Vân Uoc Phan (whose name translates from Vietnamese to the ‘Cloudwish’ of the title).

Vân Uoc is the daughter of Vietnamese refugees who arrived in Australia in 1980. She lives in a housing commission flat and attends the prestigious Crowthorne Grammar (the pivot-point of all Fiona’s books thus far) on a scholarship. She’s fiercely smart and a quiet dreamer, and one boy – Billy Gardiner – has been occupying her dreams a lot lately. A freeform creative writing exercise and a glass vial with the word ‘wish’ inside sparks something in Vân Uoc though, something powerful and magical …

Vân Uoc is one of the most interesting characters to come out of Aussie YA. Her perspective as the daughter of Vietnamese immigrant parents who rely on her for English-translation in social situations alone makes her intriguing – and absolutely speaks to an article that fellow Aussie YA author Sarah Ayoub wrote recently; ‘Still looking for Alibrandi: migrant teens deserve their own young adult fiction.’ It’s also the fact that Vân Uoc feels so much pressure on her shoulders to get good grades and embark on a worthy career to make her parents proud, and fulfill the wish that saw them settling in Australia in the first place – to give their daughter the best life possible. And she’s an interesting character to be exploring the current state of Australian politics – particularly our abysmal treatment of asylum seekers – to see this through the eyes of a young person who comes from a side of this debate that makes it hit so close to home;

… I wish I hadn’t read the article about the fucking government’s new legislation on boat people how dare they how dare they stand in the fortress the high places the towers of privilege stamp down rain down reign down on the people who can’t find the first foothold in the green water floating drowning the soft sand the sand too far too far far far below never making it to shore they are no different from us us and then us is them we are them …  

And at the heart of Vân Uoc’s intrigue is that she’s coming from a place of diversity. Not just racial, but that she’s from a somewhat lower socio-economic background trying to fit in as a ‘scholarship kid’ at Crowthorne Grammar – that alone sets her apart in Aussie YA right now. And I appreciated that Fiona Wood wrote her with such tenderness and deep respect for her community – the fact that the book is written in third-person alone (when ‘Six Impossible Things’ and ‘Wildlife’ were first) is partly because the author didn’t want to appropriate that voice. I was also not surprised to learn that she worked very closely with the Melbourne Vietnamese community to get the story and character just right – that authenticity and deep respect shines through in this book, and lifts the story.

And the story itself is just beautiful – very much inspired by Jane Eyre (whom Vân Uoc is quite obsessed with). It’s a story that I’ve heard Fiona Wood refer to as a celebration of ‘quiet girls with big thoughts’, those people who fly under the radar but if you pay them a little attention they will floor you. There’s the sweetest dash of romance to this tale of Vân Uoc and her crush on the elusively cool Billy Gardiner, helped along seemingly by a little magic … it’s another one of Fiona Wood’s romances that I want to celebrate; and makes me want to put her books into the hands of boys and girls everywhere.

‘Exactly when did I go from being invisible to being visible?’ 
This was his cue to say that he’d gradually been noticing her over the last year or so – he hadn’t wanted to be obvious in his attentions, but he knew by now that, though quiet, she was smart; though shy, she had a sense of humour; though not a self-promoter, she was a dedicated, passionate artist … 
Billy smiled. ‘It was that class – the first week back, when the visiting writer came. The one with the pink hair?’ 
Vân Uoc stopped dead. It took a huge effort to retain her cool, but she managed it. Just. ‘Yep. Yep, I remember. So, what was it that made you notice me?’ 
Billy nodded and looked into the middle distance as though he was trying to replay the scene in his mind. He looked puzzled. ‘It was like you suddenly had a spotlight on you.’ 
‘So, just to be clear: it was a sudden thing more than a gradual thing.’ 
'Can’t answer that – because who knows what’s been going on subliminally and for how long? Am I right?’ 
God, of all the annoying times for him to become reflective. ‘Billy, just concentrate on that particular class – what else did you notice about me, if anything?’ 
'The best way to put it, I guess, is that it was just blindingly obvious that you were the most interesting person in the room.’ Billy smiled the Doritos smile. ‘Apart from me.’

I loved this book. I’ve already re-read it twice and have found new things to love in the re-reading. It’s just one of those books that burrows deep – and I want to gift it to everyone, but since I can’t physically do that I’ll take my platform here and just say please read it – you'll thank me later.


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