A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat
Candlewick Press, 2020, 375 pages
About the Author: Christina Soontornvat grew up behind the counter of her parents’ Thai restaurant in a small Texas town with her nose stuck in a book. She is very proud of both her Thai and her Texan roots. Christina is the author of the fantasy middle grade series, The Changelings, and the early chapter book series, Diary of an Ice Princess. Her forthcoming books include the middle grade fantasy, A Wish in the Dark, and All Thirteen, a nonfiction account of the Thai Cave Rescue. In addition to being an author, Christina holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and a master’s degree in Science Education. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, two young children, and one old cat.
“‘The point wasn’t to outshine him,’ said Pong, ‘The point was to show him…The point was to show yourselves that you don’t need him. You don’t need his light. You don’t need his laws. You can do it without him.'”
Pong was born with a target on his back—or rather, a mark on his wrist from Namwon Prison that represents how he will always be burdened with the crimes of his mother. He has always idolized the Governor, a symbol of progression and fairness in the region, and he dreams of working alongside the man who brought light back to Chattana City after the Great Fire. When faced with the opportunity to escape from prison before his sentence is up, however, he impulsively takes it. Unfortunately, the new life he is faced with is hardly fairer than the prison he left behind. The rich bask under bright, golden orbs created by the Governor while the poor work and beg in purple dimness. Without the removal of his prison tattoo, Pong will forever be on the run and hiding in the shadows.
Nok, on the other hand, was raised in a life of luxury as the daughter of the warden of Namwon Prison who, over time, is appointed to the position of Chief Law Commissioner by the Governor himself. She believes wholeheartedly in the system and strives to achieve perfection in the eyes of her parents and peers. Her yearning for justice leads her to attempting to track down Pong, an escapee from her father’s prison, to restore the peace and her family’s good name. Over the course of her and Pong’s colliding journeys, she is faced with truths about the government and her family that lead her to question everything she has ever known.
A Wish in the Dark is a middle-grade novel with just enough complexity to be enjoyable to an audience of any age. Set in a magically realistic fantasy world inspired by her father’s birthplace of Thailand, Soontornvat explores themes such as coping with unfair situations, living with the results of our decisions, and the realities of social and class divides in society. Her propensity for storytelling is apparent throughout and she builds a world so skillfully described that it is easy to imagine what the characters are seeing with their own eyes while empathizing with their emotions and feelings about the world and people around them. Soontornvat’s story is perfectly paced and both heavy-hearted and heartwarming in all of the right places, serving as a wonderful adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Misérables.
PRR Writer, Machaela Raney
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