Source: Hachette Books
I have been thinking about Cloudwish ever since I finished reading it (and that was quite some time ago). I have been trying to think about how I would articulate my thoughts about this–and I have many of those thoughts since I’m a very opinionated person.
There are things about this book which worked very well for me and there are things which didn’t work very much but the part that worked eclipsed the part that didn’t. Which means that as far as I am concerned this book is a keeper.
That’s my thesis statement right there. (Ha, this is what happens when I am no longer graded upon the strength and precision of my rhetoric.)
Okay, it’s 1:32 am. I’m ready.
Let’s do this.
First, here’s a synopsis:
For Vân Uoc 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 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!
I wouldn’t take the synopsis too seriously if I were you. It doesn’t even begin to encapsulate what the entire book is about. Sure, it’s not misleading and the whole wishes thing is (sadly) a thing but it is still a subplot at most. Do not dismiss this book as one of those books concerned entirely with romance (not that there’s anything wrong with books like that if they’re what you like). Romance is a big part of the novel but Vân Uoc is a complex character and reducing her into a girl pining over her love would be a crime (or it should be).
You might wonder why I am choosing to discuss this book as a primary text discussing this month’s theme which is “Space” in case you have forgotten. Let me tell you why.
Vân Uoc is the child of immigrant parents which gives her a rather unique perspective. I mean, you may have watched TV shows that attempt to articulate the immigrant lifestyle and I am not sure what kind of research Fiona Wood did (I’m going to ask her for an interview so I can ask her) but my point is! This entire experience is difficult to express without capitulating to stereotypes. I am very picky about emotional authenticity and though I’m not sure if Wood is/was an immigrant, she has been able to grasp and portray the immigrant experience very very authentically. And I can say that because I am an immigrant. The immigrant experience is not identical, of course, but it is often universal and the similarities in sentiments are astonishing. I moved to Canada from Fiji with my parents and honestly so many of the things Vân Uoc goes through with her parents are familiar to me that I had to stop and wonder how my life wound up on the pages of this book.
(Except that part about wishes.) (I wish I could wish a hot guy into loving me.)
As immigrants, we are always extraordinarily sensitive about space. Remember Shailja Patel’s Migritude?
“We overdress, we migrants. We care too much how we
look to you. We get it wrong. We ought to look like we
don’t give a fuck. We show up ridiculously groomed,
bearing elaborate gifts. We are too formally grateful.
We cringe in silent shame for you when you don’t offer
food or drink. Eat before us without sharing. Serve
yourselves first. Insult us without knowing.
Two white Americans said to me, when I shared my
doughnut with them:
We’ve never seen anyone cut a doughnut into three pieces.
We calibrate hunger precisely. Define enough differently
from you. Enough is what’s available, shared between
everyone present. We are incapable of saying, as you can
Sorry, there’s not enough for you.”
Yeah, Fiona Wood’s Cloudwish expresses all of this in her story of Vân Uoc who is caught between duty to her parents, filial piety, and her desire to be true to her own dreams–to be an artist. She’s whip smart and very aware of the world around her.
The billboards on the Albert Street corner sang their usual song: Thin is good. Half-naked is good. Blonde is good. White is good. But today instead of it being semi-invisible wallpaper or a mild annoyance, a space from which she expected to be excluded, Vân Uoc found herself thinking, Fuck you advertisements, get your freaking photoshopped sexist Anglo-normative ideas about beauty out of my face.
Vân Uoc’s journey of learning English and falling in love with reading and Jane Eyre is very relatable as are her constant attempts to reach her parents on an emotional level–she tries often to understand the horrors they suffered before they reached Australia but sometimes certain things cannot be relayed through words. I think the relationship Vân Uoc has with her parents is one of the most compelling things about Cloudwish. I loved the friendships, particularly between Vân Uoc and her neighbour, and partner in crime, Jess, who always gives it to her straight. Theirs is not always the smoothest friendship but good things come to those who work hard.
I also loved how Vân Uoc does not exist in a solipsistic sphere as many teens do. She is very much aware of the privilege that some people have (illustrated liberally by some students at her posh private school) and the world around her. Hang in there, I’m going to talk to about the romance soon. I just have another excerpt to share that beautifully illustrates why this book was such a pleasure to read.
“….Tell me something to make me feel better.”
Make him feel better.
Make him feel better?
She thought about what it meant to be considered a bad influence, just because she was born outside a tiny social circle.
She looked up at the ceiling and thought about what her own family had survived, still so new and raw to her.
She thought about Debi’s family during the Second World War, what they’d been through in the Warsaw Ghetto, then in hiding; how all had been persecuted, and most had died.
She thought about families in Gaza during 2014, when nowhere in the city was safe from Israeli airstrikes, not even schools, not even hospitals.
She thought about the schoolgirls kidnapped in Chibok, Nigeria, still not rescued.
She thought about the family from South Sudan who just moved down the hallway, and the slash scars all over the dad’s face and neck.
She thought about the millions of dispossessed people jammed into refugee camps all around the world.
No one expects YA novels to be so hard hitting but you know what? We need books like Cloudwish that demand their readers be smarter, be more aware, and care for more than their own selves. So while the romance did seem a tiny bit illogical (why did he notice her after so long?), I’m not going to complain because Vân Uoc’s journey to her self is such a strong one. And to be fair, the love interest is a complex character in his own right which mitigates the whole wish thing. But this book is not about him. It is about Vân Uoc and it is her voice that needs to be out there, her experiences that need to be related because there are many many kids (of whom I was one) out there feeling the same things she is.
What I’m saying is…read this book.