by Christina Soontornvat (Author)
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 Misérables 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.
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After nine-year-old orphan Pong escapes from Namwon Prison, where he was born, he finds himself on a collision course with the Governor, a powerful autocrat who has built a society for the privileged few. He is unexpectedly joined by Nok, the prison warden's sheltered daughter who, in her quest to recapture Pong and gain favor with the Governor, is confronted with the unseemly truth of his regime. In the revolutionary underbelly of Chattana City, where the orb-lit glow of night seems more vibrant than day, Pong and Nok unite in peaceful protest against the Governor's oppression. Soontornvat's (The Blunders: A Counting Catastrophe!) twist on Les Misérables, set in an alternate Thai city, sends the young protagonists through lantern-soaked night markets; descriptions of food and place are particularly rich and evocative. Though Nok and Pong occupy the same spaces, there is relatively little interaction between them until two-thirds through the story. Instead, the plot's emotional pull comes from their relationship with other characters, such as Pong's connection with kindly monk Father Cham and Nok's with her conflicted father. Soontornvat artfully builds up to a triumphant confrontation, weaving in important themes about oppression and civil disobedience along the way. Ages 8-12. (Mar.)Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.
Gr 4 Up-Years ago, the city of Chattana burned to the ground in a Great Fire and was thrown into chaos. The Governor restored peace to the city and powered it magically with orbs that gave light, heat, and power. Pong was born in Namwon Prison. Those lights represent freedom; but when he escapes from prison, he learns that the Governor controls who is in light and who is in darkness. In this society, everyone is beholden to the Governor and no one is truly free. Nok's father, born into society and now the prison warden, is disgraced when the 12-year-old Pong escapes. Unable to bear her father's shame, Nok embarks on a quest to find Pong and avenge her father's reputation. As she does, she learns that things are not always as fair and simple as she was taught in school. Nuanced questions of morality, oppression, and being defined by one's circumstances are compounded with exciting action in this novel inspired by Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. The characters are resonant, and the action is enhanced by the fantastical Thailand-like setting. VERDICT The original storyline and well-developed characters make this a standout novel. Highly recommended.—Julie Overpeck, Gardner Park Elementary School, Gastonia, NCCopyright 2020 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.