Let me tell you a story.
It’s not very interesting, but we’re gonna roll with it!
One day, all the way back in 2018 when I was a gross little thing, I found out about a Thai-inspired Middle Grade fantasy releasing in 2020. I think I might have teared up about the Thai rep or done something else equally pathetic (I say, as if I don’t cry over not being in Thailand).
It felt like such a long time to wait for a book that I thought would steal my heart, but now that day is FINALLY here!!
Today is the day I will convince you to read A Wish in the Dark at least some time in the future or die. Because I need to make as many people read this beautiful, godly book, and understand why it makes me so happy beyond Thai rep. It’s a phenomenal book and I genuinely am so excited for the whole world, especially young (Thai) kids, to be able to read it now.
Christina Soontornvat || March 24, 2020
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.
Thank you to Candlewick Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! This did not my affect my opinion in any way.
All quotes are from an advance copy and may differ in final publication.
A Wish in the Dark is a Middle Grade fantasy follows two children: Pong, a boy who escapes the prison he was born in, and Nok, the prison warden’s daughter who has become a warrior. As Nok tries to track him down, Pong discovers how the rich of Chattana thrive while the poor struggle, and he and his friend Somkit band together to bring justice.
I’ve said before that I felt like this book was flawless, and I still stand by it. Immediately after I finished it, I remember smiling broadly and thinking about how perfect it felt. I kept waiting for some flaws to surface in my mind, because my brain hates positivity apparently, and I truly couldn’t think of anything.
“Well, sometimes light shines on the worthy. But sometimes it just shines on the luck ones. And sometimes… Sometimes good people get trapped in the dark.”
Pong is a boy who was imprisoned and treated unfairly because of his mother. He simply yearns to be free, but he also is extremely good-hearted and kind. Nok, on the other hand, is fierce and determined, but still struggling to define her ideas of right and wrong, just like any kid growing up is. Both of these characters are growing, developing their ideas of the world, and learning how to fight for others.
I think an important part of this book is the relationships that the characters form with one another. First and foremost, I ADORE the sweet friendship between Pong and Somkit (you could argue that they almost seem like brothers). Thank you Middle Grade books for giving me such a wholesome relationship between two boys!!
Some other relationships I love include Father Cham, as a mentor to Pong. I am very Thai and look up to monks a lot, so I loved seeing him teach Pong important life lessons, Buddhist-inspired. And I also fell in love with Nok’s relationship with her parents! There is one particular scene where her father reassures her of his love no matter what, and it’s so heartwarming.
No matter what he did, he could not shut off the light that poured out of the people of Chattana.
What I appreciate a lot about this book is how it artfully tackles social issues such as poverty and wealth distribution. Chattana depends on orb lights, for everything from light to electricity to heating. The system is set up against people who can’t afford the better types, and the rich turn away from their struggles.
Soontornvat talks about privilege and unfairness, and how the affluent don’t care about the poor, and, most importantly, questions whether you can actually make a change, when you recognize injustice and believe you cannot do anything about it. She writes these in a meticulous way that makes it easy for kids to understand, yet encourages them to explore these issues for themselves.
What really is the cherry on top for me, though, is that this book is brimming with Thai culture. Everything from the names to the !!food!! to the customs to the cover is so wonderfully Thai, and seeing my culture written so lovingly means the absolute world to me. I think I actually teared up at one part when Pong was with monks at a temple probably because, again, my love and respect for monks has been ingrained in me as a Thai. :o)
(I also would like to note that there is a lot of mango love, and I, especially as a Thai, wholeheartedly approve.)
“You can’t run away from darkness. It’s everywhere. The only way to see through it is to shine a light.”
You’ll grow fond of these characters quickly and root for them to bring justice, and you’ll fall in love with the world that it’s set in as well as the culture it draws from. When you finish the book, the only possible reaction is to smile and feel like your heart is expanding beyond your chest.
Even if you don’t normally read Middle Grade, I am begging you to pick this up! Not only because it means the world to me for being a Thai-inspired fantasy and having so much Thai culture in its pages, but because it truly is written on another level.
:: rep :: all-Thai cast (MY HEART!!!)
:: content warnings :: death, drowning, fire
are you planning to read this, even if it’s 3 years from now? (say yes or i’ll find you and eat your toes) what are some of your favorite mg fantasies? and if you know any thai book community people please tell me!! i know of so few :((