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!
Published: September 1 2015 by Pan Macmillan Australia
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Source: ARC via Netgalley
I recognised myself in Jane Eyre. It amazes me how many white people can’t read themselves in black characters. I didn’t feel any separation between Jane and me. We were tight.
– Alice Walker, Sydney Writer’s Festival, 2014.
(I love how Cloudwish opens with this quote.)
Vân felt like a friend who walked down a similar path of books and daydreams. As Vân tackles another school year, she connects with Jane Eyre’s quiet fortitude and draws strength from Jane’s story in her choices to act when she feels compelled to. I wish I could go back in time to discover this book as a high school student. Cloudwish would have joined the ranks of books I constantly re-read as a teen.
I just clicked with Vân’s sense of humour. I felt at home with Vân and her best friend Jess. They would check in with each other for random chats about life with all its light and serious shades of being. Cloudwish brought back high school memories of exploring different passions. It could have been art, sport, science or books that led to a future outside of the tight bubble of social drama. Vân’s zany sense of imagination takes flight with her fantasies, art and wishes. Her imagination is also paired with a grounded sense of realism.
Vân is from a low socio-economic background but she is quick to observe that there are many Asian-Australian families who are from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. She also acknowledges the cultural and/or generational differences between each family. Cloudwish definitely benefited from the author’s research and the feedback from conversations with people. I appreciate books like Cloudwish and Looking for Alibrandi which explore the personal inner conflicts that arise from negotiating what it is like to be caught in between cultures.
Though I am always cautious when I approach a book written by a non POC writer about these experiences. On that note, I’d also recommend reading the autobiographical short stories from Growing Up Asian in Australia edited by Alice Pung and The Boat by Nam Le for a deeper look into these experiences too.
Cloudwish touches upon familial love, a sense of filial duty and Vân’s navigation through the cultural differences which arise, as Vân tries to understand where her own parents are coming from. In high school, my friend ran up to me with a copy of Unpolished Gem by Alice Pung because she’d found a story with Asian-Australian characters that she could relate to. Cloudwish brought out that spark of recognition in me too.
Vân perceives outside privilege and either reflects upon it or calls it out in misunderstandings – especially when she interacts with her crush, Billy and the high school elite of bullies. I liked how the romance developed from a new friendship. I also loved that Vân’s friendship with Jess was a constant anchoring presence and source of support in the story. I’d recommend Cloudwish to anyone – especially if you enjoy a bit of whimsy with your contemporary YA.
Related book recommendations:
- I’ve already mentioned a few books but I’d also recommend Dreaming of Amelia by Jaclyn Moriarty because it’s another wonderful YA contemporary book with a whimsical twist and a few fond nods to Gothic literature.
- I don’t know why Laurinda by Alice Pung is still sitting on my TBR. I’m so excited to read this Aussie YA book.
- Not a book but an article by Justine Larbalestier which I definitely recommend: Criticism of Representation in YA is essential. As much as I love Cloudwish, I acknowledge that I still read more diverse stories by non-POC writers than diverse books by POC writers. It’s a systemic bias in my reading habits that I am working on.