Title: A Wish in the Dark
Author: Christina Soontornvat
Publication Date: March 24th, 2020
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Source: eBook gifted by Skye <3
Age Range & Genre: middle grade, fantasy
Representation: all-Thai cast
Content warnings: death, fire, mentions of drowning
Synopsis: 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, and inspired by Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.
Everyone say hello to my first 5 star read of 2021!! After months of both Skye and May bullying me into reading it, A Wish in the Dark became one of my all-time favorites. It’s perfect from beginning to end, and that truly isn’t something I say lightly.
“…sometimes light shines on the worthy. But sometimes it just shines on the lucky ones. And sometimes…” He looked over his shoulder at the East Side, glittering like a rainbow across the river. “Sometimes good people get trapped in the dark.”
5 Reasons to Read A Wish in the Dark
- A Wish in the Dark features a quiet kind of magic that promises to smooth out the roughest of edges. While the conflict is centered around the Governor, and subsequently his magic, one of my favorite aspects of the book has to be the blessings bestowed by Father Cham. They’re small, seemingly odd or mundane things to wish upon someone else, but all of his blessings contribute to a life that’s a little less daunting and a little less dark. I don’t know about y’all, but I wouldn’t mind a blessing as simple as may you sleep through the sound of snoring, or yet, one such as may you walk in peace wherever you are in the world. Father Cham’s blessings might seem random or even irrelevant, but the purpose of his magic is not to create a perfect life for someone else; Father Cham’s real gift lies in knowing what individuals may need to lighten the burdens they carry.
- Their game of cat-and-mouse results in both Nok and Pong questioning what they have been led to believe for their entire lives. As the prison warden’s daughter, Nok has grown up with an iron-clad idea of right and wrong and the importance of upholding the law. The way she sees it is pretty simple: if you obey the law, you’re a good person, and if you’re a good person, you can lead a good life. To do otherwise is a matter of failure. Although their upbringings are completely different, Pong’s beliefs don’t differ much from Nok’s. For the majority of his life, Pong has been told that he is stuck in a poverty/prison pipeline, and there is no hope of escaping. Father Cham’s unconditional support and care is essential in Pong realizing that he is worth taking a chance on. He, along with everyone else in Chattana, deserves to live in the light, no justification necessary.
- Seriously, let’s talk about criminality and “reform” centers. A Wish in the Dark features a peaceful march that, in part, is protesting the building of a juvenile reform center, which is just a fancy way of saying a children’s prison. The prevalent belief in Chattana is that the children of thieves grow up to become thieves themselves, and this is considered a hereditary moral failing. The Governor himself preaches that “light shines only on the worthy.” What Nok and Pong learn, and what many people in society could stand to learn, is that people should not need to prove themselves worthy in order to earn the right to not be trapped in the dark.
- A Wish in the Dark is hopeful and tear-jerking and beautifully powerful for it. Honestly, maybe I should be more intentional about reading middle grade, because between this and Clues to the Universe, I can’t stop crying. Just reading Christina Soontornvat’s interview with The Quiet Pond was enough for me to tear up again. Pong and Somkit’s friendship is built entirely on them looking out and being there for each other. As much as I love their 13 year old senses of humor, the serious moments where they discuss their childhood might be my favorite part of the book, because while the world they live in might be complicated, their friendship is not. A Wish in the Dark is so wholesome, from the messages, to the friendships, to the durian references. Yes, I said durian references – and in case you’re wondering, they’re great.
- I finished this book and managed to recommend it to my boss the very next day. Now, my boss and I have extremely different reading tastes, and we rarely talk about books outside the span of my English degree. When she suddenly asked me what one book I would make required reading for students before they reach high school, A Wish in the Dark was the first and only book that came to mind. (Her pick was Holes by Louis Sachar in case anyone was wondering.) This magical book is about compassion and empathy and justice, kids who can change the world and adults who are made to realize it’s their job to help correct the mistakes they’ve made. And it’s so, so well done.
Have you picked up a copy of A Wish in the Dark yet? If not – what’s stopping you?
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