The Walled City by Ryan Graudin
Jin, Mei Yee, and Dai all live within the labyrinth of the towering buildings and lawless streets of The Walled City. Jin, a girl dressed as a boy, is the fastest runner and uses it to her advantage to stay alive, all the while searching for her long lost sister. Mei Yee, that very same sister, was sold at a young age and works in a brothel for the biggest druglord around. Dai is a boy with secrets of his own, secrets that could tear everything apart.
The Walled City is a story of friendship, family, survival, and learning when the survival of others is more important the survival of oneself. It’s about hope and a failure to give up, even when everything is at its bleakest.
The three main characters are each central and integral to the story and the plot, to the development and understanding, to the themes and the unraveling. Each one brings a different personality, a different desire, a different secret. Each has their own story to tell.
The setting, inside the walls of the Hak Nam Walled City – a place based on the very real Kowloon Walled City that used to exist outside of Hong Kong until the late 80s when it was torn down – is unique and desperate and richly layered. It’s a place of criminals, exiles, lawlessness, and savagery, but it’s also a place people cling to and call home. Not everyone is bad, some are there just trying to make an honest living in a dishonest city.
The plot is whirlwind. The first half I had no idea where the story was going, what the secrets were or how the story would end, just that I had a lot of pages left and no morsels of information to cling to and build theories off of. Then the secrets are revealed and the plot moves. Fast. The last 100 pages move in a blur, a race against time, a page turning dash to find out what happens, how it all comes together, how it ends.
It’s refreshing to read a Young Adult novel that doesn’t focus on the romance, that doesn’t fit into a clearly defined genre, that ends after just one book. And while there is romance, it’s not cheesy, it’s not defined, and there isn’t a love triangle; it’s there as a symbol of hope and escape. It’s not historical fiction, and it’s not a dystopian or a fantasy, but it includes elements of each.
And of course, there’s a cat. I love cats, and even more so when they’re as snarky and awesome as Chma. He stole the show, and his pain hurt me more than anything else I’ve read in awhile. Chma = my heart.
Finally, the fact that this book features Asian characters is another win.
All that being said, this book is not perfect. Some may find the writing style choppy, a problem I didn’t have but can see how others would. Parts of the plot are too convenient as well, and I wish more time could’ve been spent on some of the larger issues at hand: human trafficking, dehumanization, etc.
Overall, a really great, can’t-put-it-down read!
4.5/5 stars – the 1/2 star is for Chma!