Cloudwish

Fiona Wood

Cloudwish
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Cloudwish

Fiona Wood

CBCA Book of the Year Award Winner (Older Readers) 2016

For Van 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. And there was zero chance of a pay-off, because it was a truth universally acknowledged that he only ever went out with girls like Pippa or Tiff or Ava.

At sixteen, Van Uoc Phan, a scholarship student, has always believed in keeping a low profile: real life will start when school finishes. But when she attracts the attention of popular Billy Gardiner, she finds herself in an unwelcome spotlight. As she struggles to reconcile fantasy Billy with real Billy, she is also grappling with the growing suspicion that she may have accidentally wished his affection into existence. But that can’t possibly have happened, can it?

Van Uoc has always tried to live according to the Jane Eyre standard: What would Jane do?

If only things were that simple!

Real life is no longer on hold, and Van Uoc is quickly discovering who she really is.

Review

For 16-year-old scholarship student Van U’oc Phan, magic has never been part of the plan. She is all work and no play; responsible, reliable, rational; quiet on the outside, the noise of her tumbling private thoughts kept neatly within. So when she makes a wish and it seems to come true, her sense of rationality as well as her sense of self is thrown into a state of flux.

Star athlete Billy Gardiner, who has ignored her for the whole of high school, is suddenly interested. Van U’oc can’t believe he’d be drawn to her without a magic spell – she must have wished the romance into existence. But when she realises that she can’t press CTRL-ALT-DEL on irrationality, she starts to see the beauty in her everyday life.

This story keeps the reader guessing as to whether Billy is genuine or not, and the more we care about Van U’oc the more desperate we are to know if she’s going to have her heart broken. Not because she loves Billy, but because she’s vulnerable and it’s public. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in magic, or in the possibility of a cocky rich boy recognising the beauty of a girl who has never been on his radar before. Because above all you’ll believe in Van U’oc, an extremely well-drawn character who articulates her issues of identity (being the daughter of migrant parents, and the poor scholarship student) with grace and truth.

What she learns about her mother’s journey to Australia eventually becomes her most important discovery. Cloudwish is part wishful thinking, part insanity, and part how-to-survive-year-11. It is about what it means to have a plan and what happens when life gets in the way. While Cloudwish is full of charm, Wood also deftly explores the effects of emigration on mental health and identity, and the complex relationship between migrants and their Australian-born children. Whatever a regular teenager is, Van U’oc has never felt like one or thought herself worthy of seeking out a balance between being driven and responsible versus her personal happiness. Maybe magic comes from a mysterious glass vial or an irrational wish. But maybe it comes from believing in possibility and in yourself. To watch Van U’oc grapple with this makes for a wonderful, moving story.

Highly recommended for ages 13 and up.

Savannah Indigo is from Readings Malvern

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