Asian Book Reviews: Cloudwish & Mao’s Last Dancer

January 13, 2017 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | 3 stars, 5 stars, Books, Reviews

Asian Book Reviews: Cloudwish & Mao’s Last DancerCloudwish by Fiona Wood
Published by Macmillan Australia on September 1st, 2015
Source: Borrowed
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
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For Vân Uoc Phan, fantasies fall into two categories: nourishing, or pointless. Daydreaming about Billy Gardiner, for example? Pointless. It always left her feeling sick, as though she'd eaten too much sugar.
Vân Uoc doesn't believe in fairies, zombies, vampires, Father Christmas - or magic wishes. She believes in keeping a low profile: real life will start when school finishes.
But when she attracts the attention of Billy Gardiner, she finds herself in an unwelcome spotlight.
Not even Jane Eyre can help her now.
Wishes were not a thing.
They were not.
Wishes were a thing.
Wishes that came true were sometimes a thing.
Wishes that came true because of magic were not a thing!
Were they?

A book about an Asian teen living in Australia dealing with the traditional values of her parents and her Western classmates – where was this book when I was in high school?

Even though Cloudwish isn’t written by an #ownvoices author, I found it incredibly relatable as it highlighted things that I’ve experienced as a second generation immigrant. It covers the same family pressures that I went through at school – parents pushing you to study, needing to translate everything for them, coming from a difficult past and not wanting to talk about it, and their displacement from their immediate family. There were so many relatable pearls of wisdom that I found throughout the book, such as the Asian fail being an A-, study being the number 1 priority over your social life and speaking to your parents with a mixture of basic Vietnamese/broken English (or in my case, Chinese). Cloudwish is the first book that I’ve read that really captures what it’s like to be from an Asian immigrant family and it was captured in a frank and honest manner.

Van Uoc felt the stab of a sad truth: she and her mother would never be as close as her mother and grandmother had been.

For my fellow Australians, you’ll know that refugees or asylum seekers have a stigma attached to them. Van Uoc’s parents came to Australia by boat, escaping Vietnam for a better future. It was heartbreaking hearing about everything they went through in their escape, from starvation, dehydration, loneliness and fear of the unknown. Van Uoc rarely hears about her parents talking about how they made it to Australia, only knowing that it was a traumatising experience with her mother suffering from PTSD over it. Van Uoc’s family isn’t exactly living in poverty, but they’re not well off either and reading about their experience was really eye-opening.

I also enjoyed the values of feminism covered in Cloudwish, like how females rely on makeup to meet manufactured ideals of beauty while males don’t have to do this. It was refreshing to hear this covered in such a frank manner, as one of the examples of valuable social commentary provided in the book.

At the heart of Cloudwish, is a sweet, innocent love story where Van Uoc makes a wish that her crush, also the most popular guy in school would fall in love with her. This is where things went downhill for me – Billy sounds like a guy who I’ve read about a thousand times over – the popular guy in school who is forced by his parents to become a jock, but starts dating a girl whom his parents won’t approve of. Like Van Uoc, I felt suspicious of Billy, as someone who starts stalking her and suddenly knowing everything there is to know about her. I loved how she bravely confronted him about it, but even then it still wasn’t convincing enough for me. I mean, where is Billy’s group of friends and high school buddies? How does Van Uoc fit in with all of them? And are we to believe that he suddenly starts noticing her in English class which begins his obsession over her? It wasn’t particularly believable for me #loveskeptic.

The writing was also quite stunted, written in past tense but forced into present tense. It didn’t flow naturally at all and felt pretty awkward in some parts, which affected my enjoyment of the novel. Despite Van Uoc’s experiences which relatively echoed mine while growing up in Australia, I also felt a disconnect with her character which I felt was partly due to the writing.

While I wasn’t a fan of the romance or the writing in some parts, I loved how refreshing Cloudwish was, capturing my experience growing up in Australia as a second generation immigrant. Covering a range of topics dealing with refugees, immigrant families, disconnect from your parents and feminism, Cloudwish would be extremely relatable for Asian teens – or those from other cultures living in a Western country.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Asian Book Reviews: Cloudwish & Mao’s Last DancerMao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin
Published by Penguin UK on July 4th, 2006
Source: Purchased
Genres: Historical, Biography
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From a desperately poor village in northeast China, at age eleven, Li Cunxin was chosen by Madame Mao's cultural delegates to be taken from his rural home and brought to Beijing, where he would study ballet. In 1979, the young dancer arrived in Texas as part of a cultural exchange, only to fall in love with America-and with an American woman. Two years later, through a series of events worthy of the most exciting cloak-and-dagger fiction, he defected to the United States, where he quickly became known as one of the greatest ballet dancers in the world. This is his story, told in his own inimitable voice.

Have you ever wondered why things are so hard and wanted to give up? Probably all of us have experienced this at some point, but for Li Cunxin, giving up is not an option.

Mao’s Last Dancer is a real life biography of Li Cunxin escaping poverty in Communist China and achieving success as one of the greatest ballet dancers of all time. The stark contrast between his poor family life in the Li Commune, and where he is today (an Artistic Director of the Queensland Ballet) is overwhelming, and it’s an inspirational story of hope, of passion and of reaching one’s wildest dreams.

Cunxin’s early days in the Li Commune were hard, with his hardworking niang (mother) and dia (dad) working in the farms but barely making enough money to feed their seven sons. From struggling to obtain any meat, to not having enough underwear and only bathing once every few days, the harsh poverty they experienced was really confronting. What makes this family persevere was their strength of character, their love for one another and needing to always respect their family name, and this largely impacts Cunxin’s strength of heart.

Nothing is impossible if you put your heart and soul into it! Let’s make your family proud! Become the greatest dancer you can be.

With his strength of character, never faltering determination and his strong will to combat any problems that come his way (which I couldn’t imagine ever going through myself), Cunxin is an incredibly inspirational man. From his early childhood, to his teenage years and his adulthood, he’s always tackled his setbacks and failures head on. Even when he didn’t have the confidence to achieve, he keeps on pushing through it, keeping his dream of escaping poverty and of pursuing his dreams of ballet in his mind. Whenever I think I’m going to give up, whenever I think things are going to be too hard and that things aren’t worth it, I’m going to think of Cunxin’s devotion.

I’ve read a lot about Mao’s rule in China and the Communism, and it was really fascinating to see how he’s worshipped and revered as a godlike entity here. The communers are rewarded for praying, reciting his teachings and for practicing his words over and over, but any time people oppose them, they’re punished or even worse. From Cunxin’s point of view, honouring his ruler and his country gives him a sense of belonging and national pride, until he witnesses the lies firsthand himself.

Never forget where you come from…Work hard and make a life of your own. There is nothing here but starvation and struggle!

Ballet is a beautiful art form and it only takes the most committed dancers to withstand the pain of pointe shoes and to flow freely and effortlessly through the air, and I loved how Cunxin learns his passion for ballet through his teachers and mentors, Teacher Xiao. Through perseverance , study, commitment and constant determination does he learn to dance like his Russian idols.

Stories have the ability to touch our heart, but when it’s real life, the effect is even more powerful. Li Cunxin’s biography is definitely one I would recommend, as an #ownvoices read about Communist China, about ballet and also about perseverance and achieving one’s wildest dreams. It’s a story that I will always keep close to my heart.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Site note: Li Cunxin lives in my city and directs the Queensland Ballet, so I hope I’ll be able to meet him at an author signing one day!

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Jeann is an Aussie YA blogger and mum who loves to read and recommend books! You can usually find me fangirling about books on my various social media channels including Tiktok@happyindulgence, Instagram and Youtube.

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29 responses to “Asian Book Reviews: Cloudwish & Mao’s Last Dancer

  1. sydneyeditor1

    TY for the thoughtful reviews here. These aren't titles I've read or know, so these reviews are eye-opening.

  2. It was so fantastic! I haven't seen the movie either but now that I've read the book I'm definitely keen. The ballet stuff was definitely brilliant too! Yesss it was so good Cait!

  3. MY MOM WOULD REALLY LOVE THAT SECOND BOOK MAO'S LAST DANCER. From what she's told me, it seems like she also has a lot of respect for Mao, and hated the fact that there was a cultural revolution during the rule before (or was it the rule after? I don't know history). She didn't seem to like the fact that she had to go work in the countryside for two years (to reintroduce culture to the young people), which is probably why she welcomed Mao's rule? Who knows if she realized all the lies. I have yet to ask.

    Cloudwish sounds like the book for ME! I think I would definitely find it relatable. Other than the fact that I am not a refugee. Sorry to hear that the writing wasn't that great though!

    Awesome reviews Jeann!

    • LMAO I love how you are always looking out for your mum's TBR lol. It sounds like we have a similar taste LOL. BTW have you gotten anything in the mail yet from Australia?? YOU'LL KNOW! After reading the book, the author realised Mao's lies about America particular when they say China was the richest country and America is filled with greedy people who want to brainwash you. So I'm pretty sure she would've noticed 😛

      Absolutely, Cloudwish was so relatable and I'm glad it didn't stereotype too much.

      • I HAVE GOTTEN SOMETHING FROM AUSTRALIA AND I NEED TO THANK YOU BECAUSE IT WAS THE BEST THING EVER AND I ALMOST CRIED. Be prepared for a proper thank you on Twitter or instagram or something because I AM SO HAPPY!

  4. I have not read these two books but really want to! However, I have seen the movie of Mao's Last Dancer and thought it was simply beautiful! It's so good to hear you enjoyed these!

  5. I loved Mao's Last Dancer too! It was such an interesting insight into Communist China and growing up in such extreme poverty. And the dance aspect of it was brilliant! Have you seen the movie? I did not enjoy Cloudwish though. The romance was soooo awkward and unbelievable, and while I thought the diversity was well-done, I was disappointed that the secondary characters were so stereotypical (the gay best friend, the nerdy Asian genius, the bitchy mean girls) etc. Great reviews, Jeann!

    • I haven't seen the movie yet but I'm definitely keen to watch it now! I mean Ballet and Communist China, who would've thought the two would go together so well? Yeah, I just wasn't a fan of that romance omg. The diversity was definitely well done! That's definitely some great criticism Rachel.

  6. Aw, I am so glad that these were mostly wins for you! A shame about the romance in Cloudwish, it sounds like it was otherwise well done, which I am glad to hear. I almost feel like the writing wouldn't be as big of a deal for me, but the romance would really irritate me hahah. Mao's Last Dancer sounds SO inspirational and a fabulous message to read about. I really hope you do get the chance to meet the author one day, it sounds like he would be so incredible to meet in person, talk to about his life, all that good stuff 😀 Great reviews, Jeann!

    • Yeah, you know me and romance though so it's pretty hard to impress me in that department hahah. Yes, Mao's Last Dancer was definitely a really memorable story! I hope so too, I've seen him on the schedule at writer's festivals and stuff, but it's obviously been a long time since his book was released!

  7. annajayne99

    I'm pretty sure I remember watching the movie for Mao's Last Dancer once. I was vaguely aware of there being a book. I've just added to my TBR. It sounds like an amazing story.

  8. lapiaenrose

    I was initially hesitant about Cloudwish because it's not #ownvoices; moreover, as a second-gen Filipina American, I wasn't interested in a book that could potentially misrepresent my identity as an Asian immigrant to a Western country, especially since it's an identity that's pretty prone to stereotyping. So I was excited to see your review! Even though the romantic arc fell flat, I'm glad that the protagonist's voice and experience spoke to you in an authentic way. That's what diverse stories are all about anyway 🙂

    • Absolutely, I'm always wary about Asian stereotypes especially being in a Western country but thankfully it was done really well! I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed the review!

  9. Cloudwish sounds like it's written for you! lol
    Mao's Last Dancer is my speed only I have to be in the mood for it. Thanks for putting this on my radar.

    Happy weekend!

  10. Wendy Chen

    Nice reviews Jeann! I read Mao's Last Dancer back in primary school and have forgotten so much, it's really nice reading your thoughtful review now!

    Cloudwish – really nice reading your thoughts on how relatable you found it — same here!

    ***spoiler warning*** Mmm I see where you're coming from with the romance, I was pretty suspicious of it as well at first HAHA but it grew on me a lot on reread and after I'd read Jane Eyre 🙂 I think I was partially affected by the fact that I'd read Wildlife by Fiona Wood, which is about Sibylla, Lou, Holly and Michael – who I loved! – so really wanted Van Uoc to be with Michael at first xD The author said that you can interpret it as there being either a wish or not with both options being equally valid. I personally think there was a wish, which grew into something real.

    • Thank you Wendy! I have had it on my TBR for many years, since high school I think so I'm glad I finally picked it up. Oh man, that romance just creeped me out, I'm glad it was addressed by Van Uoc though. I haven't read any other Fiona Wood book! I'm a skeptic when it comes to that wish stuff but it's the only explanation I think

  11. AvalinahsBooks

    Oh yay! You reviewed that book I really wanted to read your review on! Since the last book haul post or where was it that you mentioned it. I really think it's time for me to put Mao's last dancer on my TBR cause it sounds amazing. Thanks for the review!

  12. Geraldine

    Wow, that's really impressive, how you related to Cloudwish when it isn't written by an #ownvoices author! That's really impressive work 🙂
    I enjoyed reading Mao's Last Dancer too – that book got me interested in China, in its history, and Chinese traditions. Glad to hear you loved it! 😀 Hope you do get to meet Li Cunxin someday too – it's so weird to think he's right in our vicinity!

    • I know, I was a bit wary going in but it definitely covered a lot of topics that I could relate to! Especially the communication with the parents and the expectations part. How beautiful was Mao's Last Dancer, I can't believe it took me so long to read it!

  13. I was so impressed by Cloudwish considering it wasn't written by an #ownvoices author – she definitely did her research! As for Mao's Last Dancer, omggggg it was so good. I've read it like three times now and every time I fall in love with it again. Also because I'm obsessed with ballet haha.

    • I definitely agree, it was so relatable and I really enjoyed it Em! Omg I loved it so much, I can't believe I've had it on my TBR for so long! The ballet parts were beautiful as well.

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