An update from our thirty-fifth Book Club meeting!
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 because they are a bad person.
Finally, we discussed Father Cham’s unique teaching style, where he guides his students to come to their own conclusions. This brought us nicely into our creative writing time. Students had two prompts to choose from: they could write a scene in which they have a dialogue with Father Cham, or another wise mentor figure, and ask them for advice. Or they could make up a fictional scene of a character living in the Mud House (the tenement community where Pong and his friends live), and describe what a day in the life is like. After we had some individual writing time, those who wanted to shared their writing. It was a treat to hear the things people had written, especially the wise advice of Father Cham.
See you again next month, where we will be reading A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck.
Our Next Book:
A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck
Book Club Meeting May 28th, 2022