A Wish in the Dark

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 07 Apr 2020

Member Reviews

Of all the books I’ve read this year, A Wish in the Dark feels most keenly relevant to today’s world. (…I mean that in a broad sense, not a COVID-19 sense). Soontornvat has penned a moving story about the importance of believing in positive change and standing up for what’s right, both at a personal and community level. The story’s touch of magic (in the form of magical orbs providing light and energy) serves to visualize and make concrete a system of structural poverty.

Everything in Chattana – every orb, every cookstove, every boat motor – all of it ran on the Governor’s light-making powers. (Loc 187)

Nok and Pong find themselves caught up in a grander movement to shift the balance of power in Chattana. Their lived experiences lead them to initially resist that movement, albeit for different reasons. Pong has internalized the words he’s had pushed on him all his life. The Governor, destroying Pong’s idolization of him, tells Pong “Those who are born in darkness always return. You’ll see” (loc 217).

He was a runaway and a thief and a liar, and if there was a word for someone who disrespects a monk in his own temple, he was that, too. it had all happened so fast. In the span of a few days, Pong had become exactly what the Governor said he was. (Loc 419)

Nok comes from a privileged (albeit imperfect by high society’s standards) family and has benefited from following the rules. She doesn’t realize that following the rules doesn’t guarantee a good life for everyone. Nok’s father also turns out be a more complex character than I initially assumed. I love a backstory that involves a character’s parents in middle grade fiction.

In following Pong and Nok’s experiences, A Wish in the Dark can serve as a gentle, clear introduction to social inequity and activism. I think it is difficult to write a book for children on such topics without coming off as didactic. But Soontornvat strikes a good balance between telling an entertaining fictional story and making a pointed observation about the world in which the reader lives.

If a march were all it took to stop the Governor and his rich friends, someone would’ve done it already! (Loc 2244)

Soontornvat writes in third person limited from both Pong and Nok’s perspectives. (I think Pong receives more page time). Despite not being a POV character, I have to highlight Pong’s childhood friend Som. Like Pong, Som was born in the prison, where he lived until he aged out. Som has learnt to live a life vastly different from Pong’s. As Pong does, I wondered why Som didn’t appear to harbour any ill will towards Pong. This point is eventually addressed in a way I didn’t expect. Their friendship was a highlight of the book for me. (The scene in which they reunite kept me on my toes!)

The Bottom Line: A Wish in the Dark infuses important messages and examples about social justice into a creative and vivid light fantasy story set in a Thai-analogue world. ★★★★.

(Also, it’s a Les Misérables retelling! As with More to the Story, I didn’t know that til after I finished the book, haha).
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I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my reviewing the book. 

"The most vulnerable among us always deserve the greatest blessing."

First of all, read this book! Share it and explore it because it's representing a world that you probably aren't very familiar with.

I really wanted to love this book. The Thai setting, the mixture of fantasy and reality, of mangoes and shrimp paste made me so excited for a book that represents Southeast Asia. I even preordered it to share with my students! I’m not normally a fan of retellings, but this one departs sufficiently from its inspiration (Les Miserables) that it don’t spoil the plot or overly dictate what would happen.

I got about 3/4 of the way through the book maintaining those feelings of enjoyment. There were some good plot twists that turned things on their head. But the ending felt a bit rushed to me. The writer was building up toward this great concept of wrestling with darkness versus light and how choices or lack thereof impact other people’s lives but didn’t quite bring it home in my opinion. Or perhaps she tackled too much, with the prison system and governments and controlling leaders all at once. It’s a good book to bring up questions and open discussions. And I’m so glad to see Southeast Asia represented in literature. I just wished for a little bit more.
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I enjoyed every minute I spent reading this book. 
It follows two kids, Pong and Nok. Pong was born in prison while Nok is the prison warden's daughter. Two kids on opposite sides of society in a town where light is provided in glowing orbs by the governor. Pong is driven by his desire to be someone better, to break away from his prison roots while Nok is driven by the desire to do what's right and make her parents proud. 
This book explores classism, privilege, the struggle to survive in an unfair world, how sometimes the right thing to do isn't always right, found family, grief, and loss with a diverse set of characters that aren't one dimensional and good world-building.
I'd recommend it to anyone who's looking for a middle-grade book that tackles real-life issues and is uplifting at the same time.
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This book has been on my radar for over a year, so to be fortunate enough to receive an ARC, I was beyond happy to get a chance to read it early. Upon finishing it, I can definitely say it's become one of my favorite reads of 2020 so far.

Cleverly written, absorbing. I enjoyed the fact that AWITD wasn't info dumpy which I feel a lot of fantasy books fall victim to; the flow of the story felt very easygoing and had a sweet simplicity to it. I'm amazed by how many things Soontornvat's done well with this book-- her use of symbolism (i.e. the whole light/darkness and colored orbs paralleling the rich from the poor, the supposed "worthy" from the "unworthy"), the messages she portrayed and the way she addressed justice and privilege. She does it in a way that's not overly preachy but in a smart and heartfelt way that makes you genuinely care and think and question on why the world is the way it is.

I loved seeing the juxtaposition between our two main protagonists, Pong and Nok. It really felt as if they were the yin and yang to each other. You have Pong, who just wants to escape his life in prison and be free.  And Nok, the prison warden's daughter, who has molded herself into this girl who always follows the law and does what's right because that's what she's grown up accustomed to believing. Seeing how these two characters transform from beginning to end, it really made everything come together beautifully. It just goes to show nothing's ever set in stone and people can always change. 

This book also had one of the best set of minor characters I've ever read about. Father Cham, a monk and Pong's mentor. It was so essential to have him be a part of this story because he really kickstarted Pong's journey towards finding himself and that's really what Pong needed. Someone to see beyond the surface and see him as a good-hearted human being, not just a product of his environment. Then, we have the righteous Ampai, who showed Pong the value of community and the power of movement. And who could forget about Somkit? Pong's fellow prisoner. Innovative, entertaining, and a loyal friend all the way to the end, his and Pong's friendship was very touching. The bonds that Pong had with each of these characters tied everything up seamlessly and made the book all the more special.

Don't underestimate middle grade literature because this book is a prime example of just how impactful this genre can be if it's done well. I'd be more than happy to recommend this book to any teacher, friend, human being out there. 

Thank you to Netgalley and the publishers for providing me an e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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I looooooooooved this! I was so excited to moderate Christina's panel at the Tucson Festival of Books, and I'm glad I was able to read the book anyway, even though TFOB had to be canceled. it turns out I don't despise high fantasy like I thought I did; it's just that I'm real sick of white people writing derivative, Eurocentric crap. So hooray for this!
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A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat is a beautiful middle-grade story about literal light, as well as the  light within us all.  The book is set in Chattana, a "Thai-inspired fantasy world," and tells the story of Pong, a boy born in prison, and Nok, the daughter of the prison warden. Pong escapes from prison and goes on a journey of discovery, all the while nervous that he will be caught and sent back to prison for the rest of his life. Nok finds Pong and is determined to turn him in, meanwhile discovering more about herself and what she believes in the process. Along the way, we meet many who selflessly care for, love and guide Pong, a few whom I absolutely adored, especially Somkit, Father Cham and Ampai and her tangerine peels.  

The city of Chattana is under the rule of the Governor, and the injustice in Chattana is unsettling and unfair.  The people are afraid of forever being in the dark, as the Governor controls all the source of light, in the colored light orbs that shine on Chattana (I loved the descriptions of the orbs and visualizing the setting). Pong, along with his friends, and Nok, are all on a mission to do what’s right and restore justice. Towards the end, the story grew exciting for me. I was rooting for these kids and for good to conquer evil.  The end did wrap up rather quickly, but I was satisfied in the end as well.

A Wish in the Dark was an inspiring middle-grade read, and I would recommend it as a novel that will promote a beginning understanding of justice, rules, morals, courage, and so on.  Thank you to the author, Candlewick Press, and Netgalley for providing me with an ARC of this book.  All opinions are my own.
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At first I was skeptical of how A Wish in the Dark could pull off a Les Mis re-telling for middle grade audiences, but I had no reason to be. A Wish in the Dark tackles the same issues of privilege, justice, and corruption in thoughtful ways for middle grade audiences. It asks us the price of staying quiet, of being complicit in a system that is unfair. Retaining elements of Les Mis, A Wish in the Dark is delightfully Asian and full of heart. It has such a fabulous and tender friendship between two boys, Pong and his friend, which I think is so important to see in a middle grade.

At the same time, A Wish in the Dark retains the heart, emotions, and important questions. Both characters, Pong and Nok - there are dual perspectives for each child - have this heart even though they are on complete different sides. Pong is impulsive, but has a good heart even though he is weighed down by guilt. Whereas Nok has a strong heart, but a strong idealism in justice that doesn't function in our real world. Even though it may be harder for some to empathize with Nok, I found her relatable. We can be so trusting, so driven by this mentality of absolute right and wrong, that we fail to see the shades of grey, the pieces of humanity.
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Fun little book, but with a deeper meaning! I enjoyed it, and I would definitely recommend it to the target age.
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This book is wonderfully crafted to share the social injustice in the city of Chattana. The Governor controls the light and overtime becomes quite corrupt. Pong, an escapee from Namwon Prison, is in search for a more fair life. Little does he know, nothing like this exists. Meanwhile, Nok is trying to hunt him down to turn him in to show she is worthy to her family. As this hunt prolongs she learns many secrets. Pong learns you cannot run away from darkness. It’s everywhere. The only way to stray from it is to shine a light on others. This book is unlike others with its blend of social justice vs. law, privilege, and self-realization.
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Pong is itching to be free. But freedom can’t be anything but a dream for a boy who was born in Namwon prison. He and his best friend Somkit are stuck in the prison until they are 13 just because their moms were put in prison. Their mothers are both gone, but the boys have to stay. And there isn’t much hope for them once they get out. Everyone believes that those born of prisoners will just end up back in prison, and in Chattana that happens frequently. When Pong sees his chance to escape one day, he takes it, though he feels guilty for leaving Somkit behind. The years pass and the boys find themselves reunited in the middle of a city that is tired of chafing under the Governor’s rules that favors the rich and keeps the poor and downtrodden in poverty. The Governor brought magical orbs of light to Chattana and helped rebuild it after the Great Fire. But his light has come at a price. The prison warden’s daughter is also on Pong’s trail, determined to prove herself with his capture. She was brought up believing that the Governor’s rules were all good and right, but her quest to capture Pong is leading her to areas where everything she has believed comes into question. Is freedom even something a kid like Pong can dream about, or is it an impossible dream?

Soontornvat has recreated a fantasy version of Thailand here. The food, the customs, the names are all authentically Thai. But the political situation and the magical orbs that the Governor can create are fantasy. The book tackles questions of justice, poverty, wrongful incarceration, and other human rights issues in creative ways. How can people stuck in cycles of poverty can get out when the system is set up against them? When do the punishments stop for people who were once incarcerated? Are laws really just, or are they merely convenient for certain people? Those are deep, hard questions, but wrapped up in a dystopian fantasy they are a little easier to start thinking about. This is a book to chew on long after the covers are closed. The students at my school will love seeing the landscape and food of Thailand in a book, and some of them will be ecstatic to find their own name as the name of a character in an English book. Pong’s journey is adventurous. Somkit is a wonderful friend. And though you start off by not liking Nok, the prison warden’s daughter, she grows a lot and becomes likable. And the poor citizens rallying together to find a way to change their city is inspiring. My hope is that as students enjoy the story of a boy looking for freedom, may they start to ponder how to make the world a better place for those who have the odds stacked against them from the start. Highly recommended for those who like dystopian fiction, light fantasy, or stories set in lightly fantasy Asia.

Notes on content: No language issues. No sexual content. There are some small skirmishes as characters make escapes and such, but no major injuries. There is a natural death and a death in a fire off page.

I received an ARC of this title from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Thank you NetGalley and Candlewick Press for the opportunity to read this beautiful story. Christina Soontornvat has created a truly magical, original Thai-inspired setting and breathes new life into the Haves vs. Have Nots conflict. Born in Namwon Prison, our protagonist Pong escapes, hoping for a much brighter future. He doubts himself and the goodness of other people. A spiritual encounter leads Pong to reconsider his potential. The privileged Governor lords his magical light over the poor people of Chattana who can't afford the orbs and who aren't allowed to make or use fire. The rich revel in orb-lit life and separate themselves from the darkness of the poorer part of the city.

The prison warden's daughter Nok tries to honor her family by tracking down the escapee (Pong). On this quest, Nok also learns from her experiences and begins to wonder about the status quo and must choose on which side of justice she will stand.

This book is a must-read for middle school fantasy lovers.

I received this ebook ARC free from Net Galley for an honest review.
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Les Miserables meets the South East is the flavor that I didn’t knew I would love. A Wish In The Dark is a middle-grade fantasy retelling, and I must admit I don’t read middle grade a lot but Christina Soontornvat’s book read as a very mature middle grade book. Set in a Thailand-inspired setting, you will feel like you were in a boat on one of the rivers in Thailand as you read this novel.

We are met with Pong, a child born in Namwon Prison due to his mother’s offences to the government. He is one of the children in Namwon, born in prison. Pong’s senses are very keen, to the point when he knows to sit under the mango tree and wait for the sweet fruit to fall on his lap, literally. On the other hand, Nok is the Prison Warden’s perfect daughter. She is smart, strong, and is a strong believer of values taught by the society.

One day, Pong helps his friend Somkit clean up the yard after the police guards ate their fill of fruits, and finds himself with a means to escape. On a whim, he goes in the trash bin and finds himself out of prison. Nok, being the eldest daughter of the prison warden, swears to herself to find Pong and restore her family’s honor.

A Wish in the Dark’s world building is so solid and vibrant, which is such a treat coming from POC authors. The book doesn’t lean on the usual fantasy settings, which I personally love. It isn’t info heavy and feels like an exploration to a world, that is much appreciated in a middle-grade fantasy. Thailand is one of the countries that I enjoy going back to and exploring, and Christina Soontornvat’s writing is very vivid that I just found myself transported to Thailand all over again, sitting on the ferry going around Chao Phraya river.

Aside from the adventure, the book’s themes are laced with themes of poverty, politics, justice, and privilege. And these themes are very relatable to readers coming from developing countries, such as Thailand and my own country, the Philippines. Pong and Somkit are born in a prison, without a fault of their own, but will eventually determine their future living in the streets, barely getting by. Nok is born in a noble family with honorable means, which determines she will be successful in life. And the society is ruled by an unjust Governor who literally has the power to supply light in the nation, as fire is forbidden due to a past calamity that the country suffered.

A Wish In The Dark tells readers that life isn’t just black and white, what you see isn’t always what it is. And that everyone has a past but that doesn’t mean they aren’t teachable, that they aren’t able to change. This book tells us that, there is more to a person that what is labelled of them. And I absolutely loved that, because I can vibe with it so much. Christina Soontornvat wove all of these in the pages of this book so delicately and non-invasive, she is a master storyteller for that.

Special thanks to Candlewick Press for an advance copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
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This adventure story feels like it's part folk tale and part dystopian future.  It's about three kids who are all growing up in a jail, two as inmates (who will be released when they are 13) and one that is the daughter of the warden.  Each are confined in different ways, but when one escapes, each follows their own paths until they come back together to help make the world a better place.  This is a wonderful story about friendship, loyalty, lessons to be learned, kindness and the abuse of power.  It would be great for upper elementary or middle school students.
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I would like to thank Net Galley for the chance to read this ARC. I loved this book! It is a fantasy world book about injustice against those weren't born into privilege. The characters and book itself was very well written and I was drawn page by page by this wonderfully written story. The narrative pulls you in and you feel the power of Soontorvat writing in ways I'm not sure I can do justice trying to explain. I'll end with this quote from the story that spoke volumes! I highly recommend this read when it come out at the end of March!
"You can't run away from the darkness," Pong whispered. "It's everywhere. E only way to see through it is to shine a light."
I received this ebook ARC free from Net Galley for an honest review.
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Soontornvat’s Thai-inspired twist on Les Misérables is engaging and delightful, filled with gorgeous imagery and relatable characters. Young readers will be captivated by Pong and Nok and the text will offer opportunities for discussions surrounding inequality, justice, and privilege. Highly recommended.
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Every now and then, a book comes along that's just a little bit perfect. A little bit special. Not in a loud way, but the sort that wraps itself around your heart and whispers, I'm going to stay here forever. 

A WISH IN THE DARK is brilliance. 

Set in the beautifully wrought city of Chattana, this story is a loose Les Miserables retelling about a boy who escapes from prison, a law-abiding girl desperate to prove her worthiness, and an unjust Governor who controls the world's light. Not only is it a cracking adventure, but Soontornvat has embedded extremely important questions about justice, poverty, privilege, destiny, and legacy into the characters' journeys. These topics are handled with incredible grace. I'm always wary of books that set out to teach a lesson, but oh, Soontornvat could teach a master-class on how it's done. The problems here are eternally applicable to the real world, and I would highly encourage all readers - especially teachers - to embark on Pong & Nok's struggle for freedom. 

What more can I say? It's a wholehearted recommend from me, with an easy 5/5 stars.
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I really enjoyed this children's book about an alternate Thailand where magic, wishes, and the nature of "goodness" clash (the author refers to it as a retelling of Les Misérables, although I'm not sure I agree with this categorization). There's a good mix of fantasy, thought provoking plot, and gorgeous world building all of which should keep all kinds of readers happy.
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Oh, what’s this? A pattern! Friends, this is officially the third time I’ve picked up Middle Grade Fiction (I don’t dislike it) without intending to and finding myself pleasantly surprised.

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat is a magical story centered around Pong, who was born in Namwon Prison, and Nok, the prison warden’s perfect daughter. It focuses on issues like how the world isn’t simply black and white, and on popular themes like friendship, adaptability, resourcefulness and resilience. I love the way the story is executed and am particularly amazed by how it has so little dialogue. The stark lack of dialogue gives every word spoken by the characters more impact and that’s brilliant.

However, I must admit that I find Somkit and Pong’s conversations awkward, particularly at the beginning for both and later, for Somkit. Their dialogue doesn’t sound natural no matter how I read it and I can’t imagine kids who have been neglected and used as a source of entertainment in a prison speaking like that.

On the topic of characters, they’re all pretty archetypal (characteristic of the genre/targeted demographic), but they’re also solid. Each character has something you can learn from, whether big or small. Moreover, the plot is typical of middle grade fiction but as implied by my earlier declaration of love for how this story is executed, it’s fleshed out nicely and written well in overall.

Other than that, the world building is as brilliant as it should be. The attention to detail and the way the details are written are things I appreciate greatly from middle grade fiction writers. They manage to include so much, making all that information feel like an adventure instead of one of those boring information dumps.

Everything considered, A Wish in the Dark is a book that perhaps has one of the purest and most hopeful feeling to it. Like a lot of middle grade fiction, it’s about kids discovering what’s important to them and how they’re going to live in a world that’s not all sunshine and laughter. However, it manages to go through the grimmer parts of reality without well, being negative about it in a way that really sticks to you. Every cloud has a silver lining and it’s knowing that that silver lining is there each time that makes this book feel so pure and hopeful.
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Wow what an intensely significant book! 
The characters have such resonance, Pong and Somkit who are born in Namwon -the women's prison in their village. Nok who comes from a respected family, as her father is the prison's warden. Pong wants nothing more than to escape and when that happens it starts a chain reaction of events that will play out years down the road. Pong is such a lively character stuck in this prison, born there, and searching for a life that means something, not just one of circumstance. 
There are a lot of prominent questions, like is The Governor the best source of help and light for the people? Or are the people carrying light and hope themselves? How can they change the way things are going and what are the repercussions of wanting something better for themselves and others?
 An intense read, but a good one. 

Thank you to NetGalley and the Publisher for this ARC!
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Pong and Somkit are born into Namwon - a women's prison in their village - and must stay there until they turn 13. Nok comes from a respected family, as her father is the prison's warden. Tired of being stuck behind bars while innocent, Pong escapes Namwon and starts a chain reaction of events that will play out years down the road. 
Is one man, The Governor, the best source of help and light for the people? Or are the people carrying light and hope themselves?
Would absolutely recommend for grades 3-6. Interesting perspectives on grace and the law - like a mini Les Mis vibe for kids (Javier vs. ValJean).
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