Joelene Reviews: Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

wood-cloudwishHigh school is pretty tough terrain to navigate. For Vân Uoc Phan, the path is even rockier. Living between two worlds, both her school and home lives are delicate balancing acts. Home is the tiny housing commission flat she shares with her Vietnamese parents, while school is the prestigious Crowthorne Grammar. If she can just manage both parts of her life until she graduates, she has a chance at freedom.

It’s the beginning of year eleven and Vân Uoc has the rest of her schooling career all planned out. Keep her head down. Focus on schoolwork – especially art. Keep school and home separate at all costs. Then in English she allows herself one wildly fantastic wish.

With it her carefully constructed world begins to fall apart.

Cloudwish is Fiona Wood’s third book. While it can be read as a stand-alone, it revisits some of the characters from her second novel, Wildlife. It is more of a spin-off than a sequel, so you’re not missing anything if you start here. Cloudwish doesn’t seem to spoil any of the events from Wildlife either.

With the current political climate, this is the perfect time for a book like Cloudwish. As the child of refugees, Vân Uoc can sympathise with the plight of those seeking asylum in modern Australia. Her anxiety about the government’s treatment of asylum seekers as criminal rather than human echoes the thoughts of many Australians. Being told from Vân Uoc’s perspective, however, lends a sense of urgency and humanity to the situation.

The family politics of Cloudwish are beautifully rendered. Wood manages to portray the often overlooked disconnect between immigrant parents and first generation children. From the language barrier, where neither parent nor child knows enough of the other’s main language to have profound conversations, to the cultural differences between the generations. The most poignant notion the novel sets forth is that no matter how much love is within a family, it can be battered by fundamental cultural differences.

Probably the thing that I liked the most about Cloudwish is that it didn’t follow any conventional plot structure. There were escalations, shifts in power dynamics, misunderstandings, secrets and general parent-versus-child issues; but most of these things played out in subtle, realistic ways without the great big climax that makes everything okay. Some things weren’t resolved at all, because in life some things aren’t.

Cloudwish is a lovely addition to the Australian contemporary YA genre. It stays true to itself, relying on the strength of its characters to tell a good story.


Cloudwish – Fiona Wood

Pan Macmillan Australia (August 25, 2015)

ISBN: 9781743533123

  • Sue Bursztynski

    I recommended this to a student who had enjoyed Alice Pung’s Laurinda, though we agreed that it was more cheerful than Laurinda. As well as all you’ve said, I’d like to add that this novel is a love letter to Melbourne. 🙂

    • Joelene

      I haven’t heard of Laurinda before. It looks really good. I’ll have to keep an eye out for it.

    • Thanks for the reccy, Sue!

  • Sue Bursztynski

    Laurinda came out a few months ago. It, too, is the story of an Asian girl from a poor family at a private school on a scholarship, but it’s a girls’ school, and the mean girls are not as easily defeated as in Cloudwish. Very fine novel, but grimmer than Cloudwish, which does have sad bits, but also plenty of humour.

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