Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

Title: Cloudwish
Author: Fiona Wood
Publisher: Poppy
Publication date: October 18, 2016
Rating: ★★★★½

Summary (via Goodreads):

For Vân Uoc, fantasies fall into two categories: nourishing or pointless. Daydreaming about attending her own art opening? Nourishing. Daydreaming about Billy Gardiner, star of the rowing team who doesn't even know she's alive? Pointless.

So Vân Uoc tries to stick to her reality--keeping a low profile as a scholarship student at her prestigious Melbourne private school, managing her mother's PTSD from a traumatic emigration from Vietnam, and admiring Billy from afar. Until she makes a wish that inexplicably--possibly magically--comes true. Billy actually notices her. In fact, he seems to genuinely like her. But as they try to fit each other into their very different lives, Vân Uoc can't help but wonder why Billy has suddenly fallen for her. Is it the magic of first love, or is it magic from a well-timed wish that will eventually, inevitably, come to an end?

A million thanks to the publisher for sending me an advance copy. Cloudwish hooked me from the very beginning and did not disappoint.

While the story itself is compelling (give me the "girl and boy come from two different worlds and fall in love?" trope any day of the week... especially if mixed class or mixed race relationships are involved), I was most notably blown away by how personal it felt and how deeply I could relate to Vân Ûóc and her thoughts and feelings and experiences.

Let me be very clear: Vân Ǔóc and I come from two different backgrounds. I am Taiwanese-American with parents who immigrated to America out of their own free will. They went to college in Taiwan and were able to pursue further education when they moved to the States. They had NOTHING when they came here but they were not refugees by any means. In spite of our differences, I still understood Ván Ûóc as though I were reading my own diary.

Having grown up in a suburb filled with affluent white kids, I know the feeling of being an "other." I understand the social navigation, the responsibilities, trying to measure up and fit in, trying to keep school and home separate, the shame of being part of a different culture, and the guilt that comes from feeling ashamed at all...

But I also know what it's like to balance all of that with dreams. And expectations. I was the English-loving STEM student who spent her lunch hour in the art room working on mixed media pieces or in my sketchbook and tutoring kids who needed physics help after school. The premise behind my AP Studio Art portfolio? Head vs. heart. Home. Belonging. Choices. I applied to college as an engineering major. (And eventually transferred into the humanities.)

So I get it.

How refreshing to see a fragment of my own experiences reflected back at me. (How silly that such a small thing feels "refreshing"—for white readers, this is just a given.) But Ván Ûóc is smart and thoughtful and proud and insecure and observant and dedicated and driven and creative and reflective and funny and socially conscious and politically aware and practical and daydreamy and weird and a typical teenage girl and also not a typical teenage girl at all. She reminds me of myself at age 17. Kindred spirits. I can't help but think that if I had read this book back then, I would have been all the better for it. I could have learned a lot from a girl like Ván Ûóc when I was 17.

But back to the book itself. The story was charming, and the characters delightful and sincere and real. (I'm so glad Michael showed up again. He was my favorite in Wildlife, so I was pleased to see him still doing his thing. I also liked Billy Gardiner—he's kind of a lovable idiot who is courteous and means well and is very polite to parents but is self-assured and arrogant and maybe a little offensive and ignorant because he was born and raised privileged. He reminded me of some of the boys I knew in high school, whom I looked at in very much the same way that Ván Ûóc looks at Billy.)

The relationships are complex and varied—there's friends and then there's school friends, and first love, of course... But you also have a mother/daughter relationship that is riddled with the complexity of culture "clash" and additional baggage, and it makes the interactions feel that much more poignant and sweeping. And the writing was rich and clever—what a voice. It carried me through the pages and left me satisfied but also still wishing I could stay just a little longer.

Books that feature POC characters and are written by white authors can often go awry, but I thought this was done incredibly well. To me it really feels like the author did her due diligence in researching and speaking with many actual Vietnamese people—in other words, letting Ván Ûóc speak her story without it being muffled or slanted by white preconceptions. Does the story rely on certain stereotypes? Sure. But those stereotypes exist and are still relevant today, so I'm happy to see those stereotypes (and their effects/influences) as an important aspect—but not the main focus—of this story.

Anyway. This review has turned into one massive blog entry so I'll sign off here and just leave you with this: Cloudwish is easily my favorite Fiona Wood book by far. I feel blown away and want to flip back to the very beginning and reread it all again right away.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Tiffany, READ THESE BOOKS.

I feel like I've been caught off guard with all the book releases that are just around the corner. It's making me realize just how far behind I am in my reading list. I've prioritized my TBR on Goodreads (from highest to lowest priority: "read like you're running out of time", "follow through goddamnit," "show me how to say no to this," and "nope not gonna happen"). However... my shelves are starting to merge because I keep accidentally buying books from my "follow through goddamnit" shelf, which makes me feel like I need to prioritize those higher since I'm actually spending money on those books. Bookworm problems. Welcome to my brain.

So, ANYWAY... I'm using this post as a note to myself of what needs to happen and by when(ish) so that I can have some semblance of control as far as books are concerned.

Tiffany's Official List of Books to Read:

  1. ✔ Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo **MUST READ THIS PRIOR TO 9/26 BECAUSE YOU WILL UNDOUBTEDLY BE SPOILED AT THE CROOKED KINGDOM LAUNCH EVENT
  2. Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta, goddess of everything **okay so this isn't actually out until October but Melina Marchetta lives high on my priority list in general so she can just stay here and hang out
  3. ✔ The Clasp by Sloane Crosley **I don't particularly want to read this book but it's for my book club and in the name of expanding my reading horizons, I will do my best to follow through... READ IN SEPTEMBER – if you can manage after Six of Crows, that is
  4. ✔ The Wrath and the Dawn (re-read so you can remember what happens before you read...)
  5. The Rose and the Dagger (but maybe you should first read...)
  6. The Moth & the Flame / ✔ The Crown & the Arrow / ✔ The Mirror & the Maze (?)
  7. Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar **ask Aunt Christine to buy in Australia... or maybe purchase in December when you're tentatively in Australia it's getting released in the United States! (in 2018!)
  8. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi **OCTOBER BOOK CLUB
  9. Every Word by Ellie Marney **technically I should read this asap but Book 3 doesn't currently have a US release date lol lol lol </3 BUT maybe I can buy this in Australia even though my covers won't match
  10. Iron to Iron by Ryan Graudin (I was so excited for this e-novella so WHY HAVEN'T I READ IT YET)
  11. Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley **out in October although it might not actually be released in the US until later but we'll just keep this as a placeholder for now
  12. Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin **out in November 2016
  13. Strange the Dreamer **really shouldn't even be on this list since it's not out until 2017 but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ NEW LAINI TAYLOR BOOK WOO!
  14. Between the World & Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates **DECEMBER BOOK CLUB HIGH PRIORITY ALERT ALERT READ THIS although you probably won't be able to attend this book club meeting... maybe it'll be rescheduled for January? – discuss with Louise
  15. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen **for book club, Pulitzer Prize winner
Listing all of those out definitely did not make me feel any better. But I will definitely put Six of Crows on my list for late August/early September reading, which will probably give me just enough time to experience a quarter-life crisis and obsess over the book for a couple of weeks before I am able to pick up where I left off and read Crooked Kingdom. I'm really dedicated to that instant gratification.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Currently Reading: Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Hi there. Hope your summer's been going well. Haven't been super interested in blogging lately, but I've still been reading and buying too many books. I started working on my manuscript again... and then put it aside because I think it would be better served in a different medium. (But I'm excited to work on this project and I'll do my best to post sporadic updates as I continue to make progress.) I've also been getting back into the swing of reading books that I might not normally pick up – i.e. non-YA. It's been nice to read works that reexamine the human experience.

I'm reading Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal for my book club at work. It's the first book I've wanted to read since Everything I Never Told You way back when. (Wow, it's been a year already.)

Kitchens of the Great Midwest is delightfully quirky and very charming – and I was getting ready to write it off as an easy, breezy read, until I got to one particular paragraph in a chapter narrated by a character named Jordy. For various reasons, I'm not going to republish that paragraph here, but I will say that it's the first time in a very long time that I had such a strong personal reaction to something that happens in a book.

I've cried over characters before – their stories, their trials, their pain – but I've almost always had this undercurrent of awareness that those characters are separate from me. That they exist in a different context, a different plane. That they belong to the world of beautifully complex, well-crafted stories. Perhaps my emotional response to those characters is amplified by the startling and heart-wrenching awareness (or denial) that they are not, in fact, REAL and that their stories and the remainder of their lives are forever unknowable and untouchable, fixed and immutable.

By contrast, my reaction to Jordy's chapter – and not even the whole chapter... it's literally one sentence – has actually very little to do with Jordy and everything to do with the unexpected precision with which it accounts for a really universal human experience... I wish I could explain it better though. This sentence, it's such a small detail – a throwaway paragraph, even – but it comes up out of something that, for me, rings so clear and true. It's like the author was tying strings to words while I wasn't watching, reviving old memories and emotions and personal experiences in my subconscious mind, just orchestrating everything behind my back, and then all of a sudden – he tautened the rope and stopped me cold and all of those feelings came rushing out like a dam.

Maybe it's one of those you had to be there moments... or maybe you just have to be me to fully get this particular instance. But I do hope that this – in general, being knocked back by the unexpected truth/resonance in a work – is something you've experienced while reading. Or just something you can relate to... It doesn't often happen to me, but it's these kinds of moments when I feel like I'm becoming more of who I am... more in touch with humanity (the beauty/ugliness, the joy/suffering, the exquisite within the ordinary), with the people around me, with myself.