Vân Uoc is used to walking a tightrope between her Vietnamese immigrant parents’ expectations for her to become a financially secure doctor and her own dreams of becoming an artist.
During a creative writing class Vân Uoc could have wished for less schoolwork as she works to maintain her scholarship to her fancy private school. She could have wished for her parents to talk more about the PTSD her mother has struggled with since they emigrated from Vietnam. But she doesn’t. Instead Vân Uoc wishes for Billy Gardiner to find her fascinating and like her more than any other girls.
When Vân Uoc‘s wish impossibly (magically?) comes trues, she doesn’t know what to think. She isn’t used to finding magic in her world and she isn’t sure if she should ignore it or embrace this strange bit of wonder while it lasts.
As Vân Uoc and Billy get to know each other, Vân Uoc realizes there’s more to her longtime crush than she expected. As she confronts the possibility that her wish came true (or even stranger that it didn’t), Vân Uoc realizes that there might be more to her than everyone expects too in Cloudwish (2016) by Fiona Wood.
Cloudwish is Wood’s third novel. It is a companion set in the same world as Six Impossible Things and Wildlife although it functions as a standalone and can be read without knowledge of the other titles.
Before discussing anything else about Cloudwish it’s important to note that Fiona Wood is a white Australian author writing about a Vietnamese-Australian heroine. Wood has clearly done her research and had Vietnamese readers look at her novel, but as some reviews (notably Kirkus) have pointed out, some of the cultural elements in this novel do not ring true. I can’t speak to any of that and, for me, it did not detract from the books merits. But it’s worth keeping in mind while reading.
Like many children of immigrant parents, Vân Uoc faces added responsibility at home where she acts as interpreter and caregiver making sure her mother takes the medication she has been prescribed for her PTSD.
Vân Uoc‘s parents have struggled and saved to make sure that Vân Uoc has advantages that were never a possibility for them in Vietnam. They don’t talk about their struggles or their harrowing flight from Vietnam because it’s the past and things are better now. They’ve survived. Compared to their struggles, Vân Uoc‘s own difficulties with mean girls at school and her relatively low social status seem trivial.
When Vân Uoc inexplicably attracts Billy Gardiner’s attention, she doesn’t know what to think. Her school friends worry that Billy is going to hurt her when he inevitably loses interest. She and her best friend Jess wonder if Vân Uoc could possibly be the subject of a long-term joke Billy is planning. But Vân Uoc has no experience with boys and Jess is a self-prescribed “lesbian-in-waiting” so neither of them are sure.
As Billy starts following her around, Vân Uoc wonders if her crush was misplaced. Billy is certainly attractive and funny. But he also has a habit of making mean-spirited jokes and a complete lack of awareness when it comes to his own privilege–something Vân Uoc has no problem pointing out to him.
While contemplating the possibility of her wish being granted and of Billy genuinely liking her, Vân Uoc also begins to reassess her life choices in other areas with an eye toward her literary idol, Jane Eyre. As Vân Uoc embraces Billy’s attentions and her own dreams for a larger life beyond studying and waiting for college.
Cloudwish is a thoughtful and meditative novel that contemplates both the everyday and the place (and possibility) of magic in the real world. Highly recommended.
Possible Pairings: Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) by Justina Chen, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung, Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb, As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Odd One Out by Nic Stone, The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin