Sunday, November 14, 2021

Review: A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat

A happy and blessed Sunday! I had some extra hours last night...something which hasn't happened in over a month...and was able to snuggle up with a read, I've been excited to dive into. This one is for middle graders and has a bit of a historic atmosphere while leaning toward magical realism. I found it beautifully done...and I don't just mean the cover...and the themes fitting to today's world.

Ready to turn on those lights and take a peek? 

by Christina Soontornvat
Candlewick Press
Middle Grade Fantasy
384 pages
ages 8 to 12

A boy on the run. A girl determined to find him.

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.



Hope and the desire for true freedom give the dark shadows of this grabbing adventure the glow to make it touch the heart and inspire.

Pong is a jail child, born to a prisoner and forced to grow-up there until he turns thirteen. While he isn't considered a criminal and has a few more freedoms than the women held within the walls, his life still isn't always easy. When he accidentally runs across a chance to escape, he takes it and finds himself at a temple. Since he's marked with a prison tattoo, he's sure the monks will turn him in to the authorities, but instead, they take him in, where he grows and learns. All is well in his world until, one day, the prison's warden comes with his family to the village for a visit. The daughter of the warden recognizes Pong and is determined to win favor from the governor by capturing Pong and turning him in. And she is not the type of person to give in no matter what.

This tale is set in a world, which has a bit of a historic flair. The magic is there but slides gently into the more realistic setting, giving this a lean toward magical realism. The author does a great job at bringing the world to life, letting details slip in to make it vibrant, and all of that without overloading the tale with boring descriptions. The prison life, the monks, and, then, the packed city with it's harsh living circumstances and bright wonders make this a world to get lost in and enjoy. 

Pong is a character to like from beginning to end. He deals with everything as best as he can, is clever, and knows what true kindness is. He does get himself into sticky situations and has to take dangerous risks, which keep the pacing high enough to make this one hard to put down. Plus, the other characters add just the right amount of humor, grit and heart to give every moment meaning.

The lean toward Les Misérables is definitely there, but it also takes an original direction to make this read very unique. The true meaning of right versus wrong, and the questions surrounding what constitutes a crime, social classes, government, and true freedom are also explored. It's a read with depth but one that never overpowers the simple and exciting tale of adventure and defying all odds to make the world a better place.

1 comment:

Muz Murray said...

I love the way you review these books.I am going through many of them just for the pleasure of reading your reviews.