From the Book Club
An update from the thirty-fifth meeting on the Stone Soup Book Club for Writers
This month we discussed A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat, a suspenseful and moving novel set in a magical version of Thailand. The book follows Pong, who is born in Namwon Prison because his mom was imprisoned for stealing. He escapes the prison and hides in a monastery, where he is guided spiritually by the wise Father Cham. But, he’s still in danger! Nok, the daughter of the warden of Namwon Prison, is determined to capture Pong and bring him to justice, hoping that doing so will help her gain glory and acceptance. Pong flees Nok back to Chattana, a beautiful but very crowded and unequal city, which floats on canals and is lit by colorful magical lights, all controlled by the Governor. There, he reunites with his old best friend from prison, Somkit, and gets involved in a community made up of the city’s poorest people, who are organizing to make their city a fairer place. Pong has to decide whether to join in on the organizing or whether he should flee Chattana (and Nok, who is still hunting him down), while he can still escape.
This book had so much drama and suspense, so many larger-than-life characters, and so many interesting and important themes to talk about. Students joined us from all over the country, hailing from different states, and in different grades of school. We had a lively discussion. Everyone agreed that they enjoyed the book, and talked about their different favorite characters. Some people loved Pong for his fierce sense of justice; others loved Ampai for her courageous organizing. Some loved Father Cham for his gentle wisdom, and one person’s favorite character was Nok, who has such impressive fighting skills and changes so much over the course of the book.
Next we got into a discussion about the major themes of the book: justice, law, right, wrong, prison, punishment. We talked about the unfair way that children are punished for their parents’ crimes in Chattana, and that prison tattoos prevent people from finding work, even after they have served their sentences. We discussed different proverbs that are said in the society in the novel, such as “Light only shines on the worthy,” and “The tree drops its fruit straight down,” and how we disagreed with these proverbs. One student mentioned that although it would be very nice if good people always had good things happen to them, and vice versa, this is not how the world works, and so it is not fair to say that if someone is poor or otherwise struggling, it must be because they are a bad person.
You can read the rest of the report at https://stonesoup.com/stone-soup-book-club-2/
About the Stone Soup Book Club
The Stone Soup Book Club is open to all Stone Soup readers ages 9–13. We started the book club for our readers during the COVID-19-related school closures, and it has been running ever since—currently once a month, usually on the last Saturday of the month (depending on holidays). You can find out more, including how to sign up, here: https://stonesoup.com/stone-soup-writing-and-art-classes/