I love re-tellings and A Wish in the Dark is a fabulous MG retelling of Les Mis in a Thai inspired setting. It retains all these fabulous character interactions and questions of privilege, while also being a touching middle grade. If you’ve been looking for more diverse MG recs and re-tellings, check this review out!
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 Miserables 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.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
At first I was skeptical of how A Wish in the Dark could pull off a Les Mis re-telling for middle grade audiences, but I had no reason to be. A Wish in the Dark tackles the same issues of privilege, justice, and corruption in thoughtful ways for middle grade audiences. It asks us the price of staying quiet, of being complicit in a system that is unfair. Retaining elements of Les Mis, A Wish in the Dark is delightfully Asian and full of heart. It has such a fabulous and tender friendship between two boys, Pong and his friend, which I think is so important to see in a middle grade.
At the same time, A Wish in the Dark retains the heart, emotions, and important questions. Both characters, Pong and Nok – there are dual perspectives for each child – have this heart even though they are on complete different sides. Pong is impulsive, but has a good heart even though he is weighed down by guilt. Whereas Nok has a strong heart, but a strong idealism in justice that doesn’t function in our real world. Even though it may be harder for some to empathize with Nok, I found her relatable. We can be so trusting, so driven by this mentality of absolute right and wrong, that we fail to see the shades of grey, the pieces of humanity.
The setting of A Wish in the Dark is amazing and the characters bring life to a story of emotions, guilt, and forgiveness. With its rich setting and important themes it has sky rocketed into one of my favorite middle grade reads. Examining privilege, and the way the system lets people down, A Wish in the Dark is thoughtful and emotional. It’s a great conversation starter about the cycle of poverty and crime, morality, and our drive to change the world.