Cloudwish comes from the creative mind of Fiona Wood, who won the CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers category) award in 2014 with Wildlife. Her earlier book, Six Impossible Things, was previously reviewed here. So it is no surprise to see her latest novel among the CBCA shortlist for 2016.
While Cloudwish is a school story, with much of the usual angst and issues facing young teens, it has so much more to offer.
What is life like for a young girl, whose parents are Vietnamese refugees with high aspirations for their clever daughter? A scholarship to a prestigious private school may seem the answer, but Van U’oc Phan faces struggles daily as the realities of her school life and home life contrast immensely and harshly.
With shades of Laurinda (by Alice Pung), Cloudwish is a wonderful portrayal of how different cultures may either mix or clash in our multicultural Australian society, and the extra struggles faced by children of immigrant families. Like Lucy Lam in Laurinda, Van moves between 2 worlds, and faces the challenge of fitting into both worlds. Poverty and privilege, blending in or maintaining a low profile, meeting parental expectations or following her own dreams – these are some of the issues for Van to deal with. Mix in a little magic and the fun begins.
References to Jane Eyre (Van’s role model?), Sylvia Plath and IB studies will strike a chord of recognition for many student readers. They also make it clear that Wood has worked in a school and indeed, she has tutored students from non-English speaking backgrounds (like Van) for many years. (See the SMH article, Working with a young Vietnamese-Australian girl inspired the author’s latest novel for more interesting details aout Fiona).
Cloudwish is a great read, and possibly, a relaxing contrast to the authors Van (and our own students) studies and admires!