Title: The Walled City
Author: Ryan Graudin
No. of Pages: 448
Genre: Young Adult; Fiction
Origins: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: 4 November 2014
Bottom Line: Fascinating look at a fictionalized version of the real-life Kowloon Walled City
“There are three rules in the Walled City: Run fast. Trust no one. Always carry your knife. Right now, my life depends completely on the first. Run, run, run.
Jin, Mei Yee, and Dai all live in the Walled City, a lawless labyrinth run by crime lords and overrun by street gangs. Teens there traffic drugs or work in brothels–or, like Jin, hide under the radar. But when Dai offers Jin a chance to find her lost sister, Mei Yee, she begins a breathtaking race against the clock to escape the Walled City itself.”
Thoughts: The Walled City is tremendously exciting. The action starts immediately, as Jin races for her life through the maze of the Walled City. Compounding the tension for readers wrought from Jin’s fight for survival is Dai’s sense of urgency at his quickly approaching deadline. As the days count down to zero, and as the stakes increase to a fever pitch, a reader’s nerves are taut with apprehension. It is the best type of suspense too – one where readers do not want to stop reading for any reason.
Adding to the excitement is the otherworldliness that surrounds the Walled City. Ms. Graudin enthusiastically gives credit to the idea for her novel to the very real former Kowloon Walled City that used to exist in Hong Kong. In fact, the author’s notes are nearly as interesting as the story she created about this surreal place as she describes how it caught her fancy and bloomed into a full-blown novel. The pictures she includes of the former Walled City are almost unbelievable in the sheer density and scale of the city as it used to look. Readers may feel that no such location could ever occur in today’s world, but Ms. Graudin’s research and notes prove otherwise.
Jin, Mei Yee, and Dai are all wounded souls, some more obviously than others, and their stories are astounding in their horror and sadness. Their stories are also surprisingly similar in spite of their differences. For, Jin and Dai are just as enslaved to the Walled City as Mei Yee is to the brothel into which she was sold. Drug use, the slave trade, gangs, rape, the daily violence of survival – they face all of it on a daily basis in different forms. While they each yearn for peace and freedom, they are all trapped into the City’s immense web of crime and indifference.
All three characters are well-defined, but the City remains shadowy in its sheer immensity. In spite of Ms. Graudin’s careful descriptions, it remains difficult for readers to be able to imagine such a locale. Indeed, her descriptions are paltry compared to the pictures she adds to her author’s notes. Only then do readers get an adequate image of just what life was like for Jin and Dai on the streets. Mei Yee’s life is the most easily imagined of the three, as her story is one told throughout the ages despite all of the international efforts to stop the sex slave trade and hers is the most limited. A room is a room, but the Walled City is unlike anything most readers will have ever seen.
Jin’s and Mei Yee’s story is uncomfortably realistic, and the story itself becomes much more than words on a page. Ms. Graudin makes readers step into their shoes, feel their pain, terror, weariness, and determination. One of the most terrible realizations readers will have is that the Walled City is not fiction, nor is it historical fiction. It was real. It did happen, and people still live in such dregs today. For most readers, if not all, The Walled City is a sober reminder that life for many is utterly horrendous.