The Walled City by Ryan Gaudin
Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (November 4, 2014)
Mature Teens only
This is a good book, but not a fantastic one. Part of it is my own misinterpretation of the story and when my expectations were wrong I just could not get beyond my first impressions. At first this historical fiction reads like a futuristic Hong Kong (renamed Seng Ngoi) but as the facts about this walled city are played out I realized it circled around a specific historical event. So while the people are made up, the facts about the city were not. Because the author used so much history to describe the Walled City (the historical one was called Kowloon) including how it was formed, why it was lawless, and its eventual demolition to be turned into a park, no matter what the author says it reads like historical fiction.
Jin Ling is a young girl who ekes out a living running errands and steeling from the various street gangs while she searches for her older sister. Dai is a young man who has 18 days to deliver intel on a criminal king pin. Mei Yee is a young woman sold into prostitution and repeatedly raped in this story…(I will get to that later).
The action can get bogged down with overly flowery language and long pauses that dilute the sense of urgency that a countdown to destruction should bring. And I am not sure I buy the insta-love between Dai and Mei Yee. But there is a good story in there and it does bring up some great discussion about poverty, child rights, and the sex trade. There is extensive forced drug use, violent scenes of bloodshed and some truly mind boggling feats of rooftop agility. Then there is the rape/sex, not just once to make a point, but repeatedly. I know this book is trying to describe in a way that will not disgust younger readers how helpless these young prostitutes (Mei Yee included) are. But I never got that feeling of revulsion which should come from witnessing let alone experiencing something this horrible. All of the violence comes off a little too neat, or pretty, or just inconsequential.
I love a good action story, and enjoy an improbable love story within a framework of a countdown to death and destruction. However, I had a hard time enjoying it. Even the saccharine ending did not make me fell better. For adults this story is not gritty enough, and for younger readers it might glorify some of the violence and gloss over the rape.
Parents: This is marketed as a book for teen readers, but this should only be read or offered to older readers and I strongly suggest you read it first before deciding if your child is mature enough for the subject mater brought up. (forced drug use, prostitution, child abuse by a parent on their young child, alcoholism, gang beatings, murder, torture, buckets of blood, and how the powerful treat the powerless)