The story: Vân Ước Phan is a year 11 student, attending a prestigious Melbourne school on a scholarship. Her parents, immigrants from Vietnam, want her to study medicine at university. She wants to daydream about Billy Gardiner, a year 11 rower, and become an artist. Vân Ước describes herself as ‘in the dumpbin category of scholarship/poor/smart/Asian’ and has an affinity with Jane Eyre – the book and the character. What would Jane do, she asks herself when there is Billy trouble, parent trouble, mean girls at school trouble, prank at school trouble? Clash of cultures, clash of classes, clash of dreams, clash of generations – it’s all here in this young adult book. On top of the realism of this story is the floating, vague, mysterious premise of Vân Ước’s wish, using a glass vial from a visiting writer’s box of writing prompts.
The highlights: I loved Vân Ước. She is a complex, many-layered, articulate, shy, Jane Eyre aficionado, creative, sensible, value-driven, infatuated character. Fiona Wood’s earlier two young adult novels, Six Impossible Things (shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year, Older Readers, 2011) and Wildlife (winner of the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year, Older Readers, 2014) focus on some of the characters in Cloudwish. You don’t need to have read the earlier books first, but I would definitely recommend reading them in any order. (And, please, Fiona, can you write Michael’s story next?)
When interviewed for The Sydney Morning Herald, Fiona discussed the respect needed for gritty subjects when writing for young adults. ‘Six Impossible Things touched on homosexuality, divorce and financial troubles; Wildlife looked at sex and death and loss of innocence. Cloudwish touches on depression, bullying and post traumatic shock disorder.’
Considering the current refugee situation, Cloudwish is topical material. Last night, Mr 11 and I saw the documentary Between the devil and the deep blue sea. Jessie Taylor made the documentary six years ago when she visited detention centres in Indonesia to understand why families would risk their lives on boats to spend years in Indonesian detention centres. I pictured Vân Ước’s parents, leaving Vietnam on a boat to Malaysia. Vân Ước’s mother tells her:
“You’re a good girl. But it is not the same. That chain has been broken. You have independence. Ba and I want that for you. But everything here is different. And that’s still hard for me.”
“But not bad?”
“No, not bad! You will have a good life. But the old life is gone forever.”
Cloudwish is a fabulous read for adults and young adults. I can see it being set for an English curriculum.