A Wish in the Dark – Christina Soontornvat

Les Miserablés re-told through the eyes of a young boy.

Pong was born in the prison.
His mother died in childbirth, so he lives in Namwon Prison with the other orphans. After all, if their parents were criminals, their children surely would be as well. At least, that’s what the Governor, the man who saved the land from darkness after the Great Fire by using his magic – glowing lights contained by glass orbs – to light the entire land. Pong doesn’t know what he wants, but he knows he has to escape the prison. So, he does.

Trees drop their fruit straight down…The law is a light that shines down on the worthy and punishes the wicked.

Years after his escape and on the run, Pong fears he really does belong in prison.
Overcome by guilt after leaving the prison, Pong’s relentless pursuit of doing to the right thing and making up for his wrongs…Pong is a young Jean Valjean, if I’ve ever seen one. Moreover, his kindness and loyalty to fellow orphan, Simkit, is proof that even when we don’t have our parents, we can still have a family.

You can’t run away from the darkness…it’s everywhere. The only way to see through it is to shine a light.

Then, there’s the girl obsessed with serving justice (cough, cough, Inspector Javert).
I loved watching Nok’s character unfold. Her mentality seemed to shift from that of a soldier who does what she’s told without question, to a warrior who fights for the oppressed and for what is right, regardless of whether the current laws reflect this. She is headstrong without being heartless, courageous without being foolish. In another life, perhaps she could have joined the police force.

At the end of the day, Pong and Nok learn that they are each fighting for a better future – one where the poor are not punished simply for being poor.

A Wish in the Dark is a story about the light in all of us.

Christina Soontornvat’s take on the classic story is exciting and fresh, but it also offers the feeling of familiarity and comfort that so any of us found in Hugo’s Les Miserablés.
I highly recommend!

If you enjoyed City of Embers , The Golden Compass, or Malamander, you will love this!

Content Warnings:
Loss of a loved one: Pong, his friend, Simkit, and several of the characters we meet in the book have lost parents, mentors, and friends. These deaths are handled with delicacy and honesty through their grief as well as their healing.

Bullying: In the prison, Pong, Simkit, and the smaller children are bullied by the older children. This is a great place to ask your reader why the guards didn’t help when they saw this happening. Why would a grownup ignore this?

Recommended Age: 9+

Questions to consider
***Why would the guards ignore the bullying in the prison?
***Do you agree with what the governor told Pong? Light only shines on the worthy. Why/why not?
***Nok grew up feeling distant from her mother – how do you think this changed the way she thought about herself? What is she trying to prove with her actions?
***Do you think there are times when breaking the law is the right choice? Like stealing food for a starving child or a blanket for someone without a home?
Can you think of an example?