Review: Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

A quick aside: Has it really been a month since I last posted something here? Eek… I won’t promise it won’t happen again (there was kind of a reason, but not enough to justify disappearing for AN ENTIRE MONTH like I just did), but I’ll definitely try a bit harder to post regularly – I have a bit more photography to post, and while I didn’t complete the November photography challenge, I did get some photos that I’m proud of out of it. More on that in my next post!unnamed

After finishing exams, I rewarded myself by going to my local bookshop and treating myself to some new books. One of these books was Fiona Wood’s third novel Cloudwish.

Admittedly, I have some slightly mixed feelings about this one, much like I did with Wildlife. There was a lot I absolutely loved about Cloudwish, but something about this novel didn’t quite sit right for me. It’s a bit tricky to pinpoint exactly where the problem was, but it did leave the story feeling a little underwhelming.

Cloudwish takes some of the characters from Fiona Wood’s previous novels (Wildlife in particular), but this is the first time we’ve met Vân Ước Phan, the protagonist. Having just started Year Eleven, Vân Ước is dealing with not fitting in at school, the conflict between her hopes for the future and those of her parents and also the feelings she has for class golden boy Billy Gardiner. When Billy goes from being completely unaware of Vân Ước’s existence to wanting to spend every possible moment with her, it’s a wish come true – only Billy’s attention isn’t exactly easy to deal with.

If there’s one thing in this novel I can’t praise highly enough, it’s how accurately Vân Ước’s crush on Bily Gardiner is portrayed. It’s such an accurate depiction of having feelings for someone who you don’t really know, and who you can objectively see is a kind of sucky person. The blend of daydreaming, angst, frustration, attraction and attempts to justify to herself and others how she feels makes Vân Ước’s feelings for Billy ring true in a way that’s a bit rare in YA. Maybe it’s a result of Vân Ước being a reasonably self-aware character, who daydreams about Billy against her better judgement, but it felt like a very authentically-written crush, without over-romanticised embellishment.

In a similar fashion, Vân Ước’s reaction to Billy’s sudden interest in her, and the following development of their relationship was also very believable. I’d hesitate to call it a slow burn romance, because the attraction is there from early on, but Vân Ước’s (well-founded) scepticism and questioning of what is, for her, an unbelievable situation, means that her and Billy’s relationship develops really naturally. There’s plenty of doubt, conflict and stumbles along the way, but Vân Ước and Billy slowly come to understand each other and grow closer, which was executed extremely well.

There’s a lot more to this book than just the romance and the ‘wish’. Plenty of layers interwove really well, and aided in making Cloudwish so engaging and readable (which was also helped in no small part by Fiona Wood’s rather fantastic writing). There were some nice nuances, as well as a rather successful management of multiple ideas being explored. Vân Ước’s parents’ expectations versus her own desires, financial troubles, her ethnicity, bullying, refugees, PTSD, beauty norms, there’s a lot that is explored here (plus more that I’ve undoubtedly forgotten), but said exploration was still usually very in-depth, creating a layered novel.

It’s a bit tricky to put my finger on what it was that made me like-but-not-love this novel. Because it ticked a lot of boxes, and I certainly wasn’t struggling to get through it, but there was definitely something thay didn’t quite work for me, and it was the same something that made Wildlife not all that it could have been for me. I think part of it is that sometimes things in the story felt forced – not crazily so, but just enough that it felt a little off. There were also a few things I couldn’t relate to, which might just be because I lived quite a boring and sheltered high school life, but things like the party scene sometimes felt more like what an adult imagines teenage parties are like, rather than what they’re really like. Or perhaps all the parties I went to in high school (which feels REALLY WEIRD to be saying in past tense, by the way) were really tame. But there were just odd little things that didn’t quite ring true for me, or felt forced, and so contrubuted considerably to me finishing this book feeling like something was a bit off.

Despite that, I did enjoy this book. Vân Ước was a brilliantly developed character, and probably my favourite of Fiona Wood’s characters. I’d like to see more protagonists like her, not only in terms of having more diverse representation, but also the complexity and authenticity of her personality. She’s noticeably intelligent, shy but not a push over, and also very aware. Her character development rocks, as does the relationship development between her and Billy, which despite being only one aspect of this story, was definitely a standout. Her relationship with her parents is also handled super well. There was a lot to enjoy about Cloudwish, and despite the fact that it didn’t work perfectly for me, it was very much worth reading.

4 stars.

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