It has been a while since I did a book review on my blog. So here is one of the books I just completed reading – A Wish in the Dark. It is a middle grade read which kept me occupied till the very end. While it has strong elements of magic and fantasy, social issues, science, and standing up for what is right play a huge role as well.
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The Book Review
A Wish in the Dark
A boy on the run. A girl determined to find him. A compelling fantasy looks at issues of privilege, protest, and justice.
All light in Chattana is created by one man — the Governor, who appeared after the Great Fire to bring peace and order to the city. For Pong, who was born in Namwon Prison, the magical lights represent freedom, and he dreams of the day he will be able to walk among them. But when Pong escapes from prison, he realizes that the world outside is no fairer than the one behind bars. The wealthy dine and dance under bright orb light, while the poor toil away in darkness. Worst of all, Pong’s prison tattoo marks him as a fugitive who can never be truly free.
Nok, the prison warden’s perfect daughter, is bent on tracking Pong down and restoring her family’s good name. But as Nok hunts Pong through the alleys and canals of Chattana, she uncovers secrets that make her question the truths she has always held dear. Set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world, Christina Soontornvat’s twist on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is a dazzling, fast-paced adventure that explores the difference between law and justice — and asks whether one child can shine a light in the dark.
This book is MAGICAL, to say the least! Set in a wonderfully detailed, Thai-inspired, delightfully fantastical world with characters that you are sure to love, this book draws you in from the very beginning, and leaves you feeling you want to stay there, in Chattana, with Pong and Nok and Somkit, and the myriad other characters.
Setting and Culture
The setting is amazing, and I repeat myself, when I say magical. Soontornvat’s descriptive details effortlessly transports the reader into the alleys and countryside of Chattana. I found myself looking up at the multicolored orbs with Pong, relishing the fruit (the mango and the tangerine, not the durian though:)), watching Nok practice her spire fighting, and marching for justice along the bridge with a thousand other citizens of Chattana.
“Long ago, Chattana was the City of Wonders. Giants as tall as palm trees waded in the river while singing fish schooled around their ankles. In the floating markets, vendors sold all manner of magical treats:….” (pg 16 of the eARC)
Readers get a beautiful peek into the amazing and ancient Thai culture, even if through the pages of a fantasy novel. And the richness flows through the words, the characters, the locales, the food.
This is one of those books where every character adds richness to the story. I enjoyed each one – the good and the bad. I loved that none of the characters are perfect, even the ones who you expect to be. Even those who are admired and respected by all around them, display certain flaws and/or admit mistakes they have made. And I loved that you can still love these characters, in spite of or actually because of their flaws. It makes them more real, more relatable, more us. With flawed yet likable characters, Soontornvat shows the reader that each of us has a light inside that will shine through, if we only let it.
Whether it was Father Cham, courageous Ampai or the benevolent Mark, big-hearted Pong, brave Nok, or resourceful Somkit, each character endears and ensures they stay in your heart long after you finish reading this book.
The many and varied relationships are another important and beautiful aspect of this book. Pong and Somkit’s deep and enduring friendship is my favorite; and I also loved how Soontornvat portrayed the strong and tender mentor-student relationship between Father Cham and Pong.
‘Warm mango juice dripped down the back of Pong’s neck as Somkit tore into the fruit with his teeth. “Oh, man. I was wrong. This is worth getting beat up over.” Somkit reached over his friend’s shoulder and struck a plug of mango into the corner of Pong’s mouth.’ (pg 5 of the eARC)
And last, but not the least, is how effortlessly and artfully Soontornvat tackles important social issues. She talks about the unfair divide in society and how a system can let some people down; about poverty and privilege; and about how each person (no matter the age or where they are from) can recognize the wrong and believe they can help in making it right.
The book also talks about how being quiet versus lending a voice makes a big difference, and this is so timely, so relevant in today’s scenario.
“… It’s more than that. I’m marching ’cause it’s time we stand up and say we won’t be treated this way. We deserve respect, no matter what side of the river we live on. No matter what color orbs swing over our heads!” (pg 296 of the eARC)
The book’s language makes it easy for younger audiences to understand and further explore not only the societal issues, but the beautiful culture the book is based on, about relationships and loyalties, about the science of lights, the wonders of magic and imagination, and so much more! It is a book that enables countless conversations that are bound to be interesting.
A Wish in the Dark is a book that shines bright, and fills me with hope for humanity, for justice, and shows that together we can bring about the change we want to see in the world. It is simply put, a beautiful, thought-provoking, heart-tugging book that you must read for yourself.
So yes, go get it now, and fill your heart full of hope and light!
“You can’t run away from darkness. It’s everywhere. The only way through it is to shine a light.”
Get It Here
Disclaimer: Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for the eARC of the book; these are my honest opinions after reading this book.
And Now, the End of this Post
Dear reader, what are your favorite middle grade fantasy reads? Or just middle grade or just fantasy reads? And if you don’t read either of these type of books, a favorite recent read you would like to share? As always, any and all thoughts on my review/post are welcome and appreciated.
And if you are looking for more books to enable conversations about race and privilege, here is one list I posted a few days ago.