Review of A Wish in the Dark

A Wish in the Dark
by Christina Soontornvat
Intermediate, Middle School    Candlewick    375 pp.    g
3/20    978-1-5362-0494-0    $17.99

Soontornvat balances inner change and political action with insight and stylistic flair in this fantastical Les Misérables retelling. In Chattana City, the Governor wields a power that is almost absolute and, ever since the Great Fire, he has been the sole distributor and regulator of light. "Light shines on the worthy," he says, decreeing that the poor will live in gloom and the rich in effulgence. To Pong, born in a prison and destined by law to stay there until age thirteen, there's no justice in the Governor's claim. When he gets a chance to escape in a stinky load of fruit rinds, he goes, landing in the care of a gentle Buddhist monk. But Nok, the prison warden's rule-following daughter, is bent on capturing him; forced to flee again, Pong is drawn into a plan for peaceful protest against Chattana's unjust laws. Alternating between Pong's and Nok's stories, Soontornvat tells a satisfyingly intricate tale of escape and chase while raising questions about institutionalized injustices of privilege and want. Her Thai-inspired world is fully engaging, but perhaps most winning are the innocence, hope, and humor she conveys in the context of the struggle for social justice and with respect to the children's growth.

From the May/June 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Deirdre Baker
Deirdre Baker
Deirdre F. Baker, a reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine and the Toronto Star, teaches children’s literature at the University of Toronto. The author of Becca at Sea (Groundwood), she is currently at work on a sequel—written in the past tense.

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