A Wish in the Dark

A middle grade reimagining of Les Miserables? Yes, please! A rich, Thai-inspired, action-packed fantasy? Thank you, Christina Soontornvat! Beautifully written and expertly told, A Wish in the Dark is a most welcome addition to children’s literature.

Here are three reasons to love this book:

  • Like Valjean in Les Mis, Pong struggles to reconcile his past with his future, but a strong sense of honor pushes him to seek justice for the oppressed. He’s a hero to root for.
  • Soontornvat’s worldbuilding is exquisite, brimming with light that radiates through the page.
  • A Wish in the Dark boldly explores difficult topics, including oppression and privilege.

I recommend this book for all middle grade book lovers, especially those between the ages of 8 and 12. Readers will love being swept away in the absorbing story set in a world of light.

Everything Sad is Untrue (A True Story)

Daniel Nayeri’s Printz-winning novel is beautifully crafted, and we’ll discuss its many merits, but can we take a minute to talk about the cover by artist David Curtis and designed by Elizabeth Parisi and Semadar Megged? In addition to being gorgeous, it offers hints into the stories swirling together inside. So consider this an example of when it is perfectly acceptable to judge a book by its cover – both are fantastic.

Now on to the novel itself. Based on real events, Nayeri tells about his past through the eyes of his thirteen-year-old self. We learn about his family’s wealth and privileged life in Iran. We experience the anguish of a family split apart after his mother becomes a Christian and flees Iran with the kids. We marvel at his mother’s fortitude in facing great challenges as a single mother refugee. And we can’t help but feel great empathy for Daniel as he navigates childhood without having a firm sense of where he belongs.

Here are three reasons to love this book:

  • I didn’t find out until after I had read Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story) that it is the first title published by the new imprint Levine Querido, run by none other than Arthur A. Levine, editor of Harry Potter fame. Due to Levine’s success record, you have to know he had an abundance of material to choose from. The fact that he chose Nayeri’s is quite the endorsement.
  • The swirling story structure won’t be as familiar with American readers, but it’s a beautiful way to tell a story. Cultural stories layered with Nayeri’s life experiences create a rich literary experience that is still accessible to a younger audience.
  • Nayeri’s real-life story is filled with many painful past experiences, but the book manages to maintain a hopeful outlook on life. Although it doesn’t try to thump the reader over the head with a story of perseverance and grit, I imagine many readers will chastise themselves after they realize how much they complain about circumstances that aren’t as big of a deal as they think.

I highly recommend this book for readers thirteen and up (including adults!). Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story) would make a great selection for thoughtful readers looking to broaden their cultural awareness.