Book: A Wish in the Dark (2020)
Author: Christine Soontornvat
Genre: MG, Magical Realism
Newbery Honor Book (2021)
Opening Lines of the Book…
A monster of a mango tree grew in the courtyard of Namwon Prison. Its fluffy green branches stretched across the cracked cement and hung over the soupy brown water of the Chattana River. The women inmates spent most of their days sheltered under the shade of this tree while the boats glided up and down and up again on the other side of the prison gate.
So, this book is basically a retelling of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables … with children! And magical orbs that light up the Thai-inspired city. We get to follow the lives of two children born in a prison and marked for life because of crimes they didn’t commit. One of them (Pong) escapes, while the other one (Somkit) goes through the system and is released at the age of 13.
And those magical orbs play a big part in the story. I loved the symbolism they bring as well as how they work into the actual plot.
Then there is the mystery surrounding Nok and her family. (Her dad’s the prison warden.) Yes, she is the law-abiding Javert character. I really like how things play out with her.
And we can’t forget to mention the monk, Father Cham and the motherly Ampai who both take Pong under their wings. (Actually, it was what Father Cham does that tipped me off on the Les Miz retelling bit. I don’t tend to read book descriptions for fear of spoilers, so I was blissfully unaware of the connection until this part in the book.)
I’ll end with one of the quotes in the book… “Which was better: being safe or having freedom? And did you have to choose?” Love how it connected to the story. Love how it connects to our own world.
I’ve seen this one around and finally decided to pick it up. I wish I had read it sooner! I did NOT know the Les Miserables connection until the middle of the book when I was: “Hey, this reminds me of Victor Hugo…” Anyhow, I really enjoyed it, and I would even say I preferred this book to the book that won When You Trap a Tiger last year.
Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!
Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up. (Note: This year is the 100th Anniversary of the Award!)
Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday…