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Friday, December 04, 2015

Just Finished Reading... Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

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I confess I had begun reading Wildlife on my iPad and never got around to finishing it, though it was on last year's CBCA shortlist(and won!) I have, over the years, tried to read the shortlist, at least the Older Readers category, but never quite manage it these days. Must go back to finish it.

Meanwhile, I had bought a copy of Cloudwish for my library and as my library technician, Lucy, was processing it, she said,"Ooh, this one is interesting! It's set in Melbourne and mentions places I know!"

In the end, it was agreed that she should take it home to read and I'd buy the ebook. With luck, it will be on next year's shortlist and then I will have made a start...

So I bought it on Wednesday and finished it last night.

Interesting indeed. I have just come across a SMH interview which tells me that the author volunteers  at a Friday night homework club and tutored a Vietnamese girl from Year 6 onwards - presumably  where she got the idea for the novel, and I'm guessing that she slipped herself in as the tutor called Debi, who was tutoring the heroine, Van Uoc, from primary school and got her enthused about Jane Eyre. Well, why not? I've never done that myself, but mainly because my own fiction is set in fantasy worlds, not present day Melbourne.

The reason why I feel guilty about not finishing Wildlife is that I suddenly realised, as I read, that it's set in the same universe as Six Impossible Things and Wildlife. And, surfing back to the interview I ran with the author on this blog shortly before Wildlife appeared, I found she had, in fact, mentioned a trilogy.

I say, "set in the same universe" because while it refers to things that happened  in the previous book, you can enjoy it standalone. What the author has done is taken minor characters from one book and expanded them to protagonists in the next. 

In this case, the heroine is Van Uoc(translated as Cloudwish), a Vietnamese Australian girl, daughter of refugees, who won a scholarship to Crowthorne Grammar and has to make sure her study habits and behaviour are perfect to keep that scholarship. Her parents, who work at low paid jobs, dream of her becoming a doctor and living in a mansion in expensive Melbourne suburb Kew. Van Uoc is hiding the fact that she wants to study art, at least until she finishes school.

The novel starts with her in a creative writing class where her "story starter" is a small glass vial with a piece of paper with the word "wish" written on it. She fervently wishes for the love of the class hunk, Billy Gardiner, a jock who is on the first eight rowing team - and suddenly, this boy who has never noticed her is in love! At first she thinks he is playing a nasty prank and setting her up for humiliation. When she realises that isn't the case, she can't stop herself from wondering if that wish she made is the cause. If so, does she just accept and enjoy? Does she try to fix things because it's not the real thing? 

What would Jane do? That is, Jane Eyre, around whose philosophy she has built her entire attitude to life. 

If this had been all - and it does take up a large chunk of the book - it could have been just a gentle rom-com, and there would have been no special need to set it in an exclusive private school. But that isn't all.  There is her mother, suffering from PTSD after something that happened on the refugee boat many years ago. There is the class divide. Even when she visits Billy's house to do homework she notices that the entrance hall is bigger than the entire living and kitchen area in her family's Housing Commission flat. She never goes on holiday, while her classmates are always talking about their overseas trips. Her clothes are limited to jeans and basic op shop tops hole they wear designer products. She can't bring anyone home to the shabby flat, so doesn't generally visit other homes. 

These elements rather reminded me of Alice Pung's Laurinda, in which there was also a gifted Asian girl of working class background studying at an exclusive private school, on a scholarship. Like Van Uoc, Alice Pung's heroine didn't feel she could take anyone home, had a mother who sewed clothes from home and met a group of Mean Girls she had to deal with. There was no teen romance, though, as the school was a girls' school. The Mean Girls were intelligent - just mean. And they invited her to join them. In this novel, the Mean Girls are shallow, so easier to eventually send off tails between legs. And Van Uoc does have a few sort-of friends at the school, including Lou, a minor character in Six Impossible Things and a main character in Wildlife, along with Sibylla, another main character in that book. I don't recall the heroine of Laurinda having much to do with the girls at her new school. 

I was a bit vague about the suburbs in which Cloudwish was set. East Melbourne I know only as a rather expensive suburb with a lot of pretty terrace houses, in one of which my publisher Allen and Unwin is located. I didn't realise there were any working class areas there, but then St Kilda is a mixture of expensive homes and people on welfare benefits of various kinds, so why not? 

Anyway, interesting. Now I'll have something to talk about in my last Book Club meeting for the school year. I'm planning the usual party and encouraging the kids to borrow something for the holidays. 




6 comments:

Lan said...

Sounds like an interesting read! I am so off the radar with books that are shortlisted for traditional publishing competitions!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Do give it a go! The second book in the trilogy actually WON last year's Children's Book Council Award. And you don't need to have read that to be able to follow this one.

Lan said...

Coincidentally, I saw this book on the hold shelf at the library just now!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Looks like you'll have to wIt, then.:-)

Lexa Cain said...

I'm sorry to say I have a very bad habit of not finishing books. Some I put down deliberately because they aren't my taste or are poorly written. But some aren't bad at all, I'm just not quite riveted. And some I'm just trying out for the first few chapters when all of a sudden I find myself reading the whole thing! I'm glad you enjoyed Cloud Wish and hope you get back to Wildlife soon. Have a lovely weekend!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Isn't it always the way?:-) Enjoy your weekend too, Lexa!