Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

The Walled City
by Ryan Graudin
Read: October 29 - November 3, 2014
Published: November 4, 2014 by Little Brown BYR
Kowloon Walled City
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | The Book Depository 

730. That's how many days I've been trapped.
18. That's how many days I have left to find a way out.

DAI, trying to escape a haunting past, traffics drugs for the most ruthless kingpin in the Walled City. But in order to find the key to his freedom, he needs help from someone with the power to be invisible....

JIN hides under the radar, afraid the wild street gangs will discover her biggest secret: Jin passes as a boy to stay safe. Still, every chance she gets, she searches for her lost sister....

MEI YEE has been trapped in a brothel for the past two years, dreaming of getting out while watching the girls who try fail one by one. She's about to give up, when one day she sees an unexpected face at her window.....

In this innovative and adrenaline-fueled novel, they all come together in a desperate attempt to escape a lawless labyrinth before the clock runs out.

A girl pretending to be a boy, determined to rescue her sister, if she can find her first - and keep outrunning the vicious street gangs. A boy with secrets, a gun and 18 days to complete an impossible task. A girl sold into prostitution, who is not sure she'll ever be free. All three are living in the Walled City, where their lives are about to converge. 

Jin, Dai and Mei Yee do not have an easy journey through this book. They are constantly surrounded by dangerous people and very real threats. I admired their fierce determination, will to survive and the way they all came to care about and fight for each other - as well as themselves. Trust is a rare commodity in their world, and fatal if given to the wrong person, but these three need each other if they're going to make it out alive.  

Four elements I want to highlight about The Walled City:

1) Tension. The Walled City kept me on the edge of my seat, constantly looking over my shoulder and worried about what - or whom - would be coming next. The author did an excellent job building tension in the story through Jin, Dai and Mei Yee's three narratives. They are all in very different places when the story begins, but the closer I got to the end and the more their lives converged, the faster I was turning the pages. The cover copy calls this an "adrenaline-fuled novel," a very fitting phrase. 

2) Setting. I was completely fascinated by the setting of the book. In many ways it is its own character: Hak Nam, Walled City, or 33,000 people crammed into a 6.5 acre space, built up, instead of out. Gritty, lawless, run by gangs, filled with drugs, prostitution, hoards of vagrants, and very little sunlight. All set right on the edge of a major, modern metropolis. It's a place I could not fathom existing - or existing in, and yet, a version of it was real less than 25 years ago. Now I'm pretty much obsessed with the real Walled City.
Kowloon Walled City ariel view (source)
The location names have been changed for this book, but the Kowloon Walled City was a real place near Hong Kong. Even though The Walled City is written as an action/adventure story, which it has in plenty, it also reads like historical fiction (though it is not officially the latter). Anytime an author takes real events from the past and weaves them into a fictional story, I get excited. Something about adding true history, makes a story feel more real and grounded to me.  I was even more thrilled when I found out the author worked hard to make her book city as close to the real city as possible, even asking a former resident of Kowloon to read her manuscript for authenticity  The location of this book is one of my favorite aspects of this story, as is the way some of the real events surrounding the place weaved into this fictional tale.

3) Voice. This book is written in first person, though as I was reading, I kept forgetting that and thinking it was in third person. I enjoyed this story so much, but I agree with fellow blogger Nikki's comments that I actually wish it had been in third person. I got wrapped up in all three of these characters' stories: their secrets, the impossible things they had to do, the pain they suffered, and the ways they grew up and found inner strength and resolve. However, the tones of their voices were all similar. I was never confused whose head I was in, but the individual character voices didn't stand out to me as much as the fast paced way the story fit together and the fascinating setting, both of which made this tale shine. 

4) Romance. The romance in this story is not the main focus, but it is important and something that stood out to me. First, because its players were a little unexpected for a YA book, but that is what I really liked about it. The gently budding love story is sweet and innocent first love, but it is also forbidden and incredibly dangerous, as is pretty much any major attachment in this world. The romance highlights how well this book balances its light and dark elements. 

The Walled City is a rush from start to finish. I couldn't stop reading this book or freaking out for the characters. The stakes are high and nothing is guaranteed, but human trafficking is real, redemption can be found in the darkest places, and if all else fails, RUN. 

Love triangle factor: None
Cliffhanger scale: standalone


  1. I'm so glad you liked this one! I felt like you would but then I was a little worried. It's totally one of those books I had to sit down and devote time to because otherwise I think it wouldn't have been as good to me. I'm glad that over the last day or two, people have started reading it a little bit but I still want people to pick it up! I almost feel like the book had two parts because it's like there is a little bit of time spent laying out the characters and setting everything up and then BAM! things begin happening and never really let up. I thought it was such fun. So glad you enjoyed!

  2. I will be reading this book pretty soon and I'm excited. I've heard nothing but good things so far about it and I'm completely fascinated and creeped out by the Walled City. It sounds so scary and intense.
    Glad you enjoyed this, Lauren! :)

  3. I make it a point to always try and check out standalones because there so rare these days and I feel like I need to try and support each and every one! That being said, this one has been on my radar for a while and I've been meaning to give it a try but after reading your review i'm like "I need to move with up my TBR pile!" I'm so happy this one worked for you Lauren!

  4. I agree with all this!! Yes, definitely to the third person. The tension was already palpable, I might have liked it even more (and I already really, really liked it). I can't believe that a world like Hak Nam really existed. Absolutely fascinating all the way around.

  5. Woah, how have I not heard of this one before? (Okay, admittedly I've been buried under piles of notes as I frantically study for midterms, BUT STILL.) This sounds completely up my alley, especially with a unique new world and an original romance, not to mention I really need quick, attention-grabbing books for the small windows of time I actually get to read. Thanks for putting this on my radar, Lauren--I'll have to find a copy ASAP! ;)

  6. I enjoyed this one too and I looked up pictures of the Walled City before I started reading it and it helped so much because I could picture it so well. It did read like a historical or even a dystopian, which meant it was jarring when an airplane was mentioned. I was like, what?? Glad you enjoyed it! ~Pam

  7. Meeeek. Amazing review Lauren. <3 SO happy you enjoyed this book. And now I am even more excited to read my hardcover of it :D Hopefully soon. <3 It sounds so good. And exciting. And creepy. And yeah. I really hope I will love it. <3 yay for no love triangle :) Thank you for sharing sweetie. <3

  8. Yeah, we discussed this. I'm struggling a little with this one and I think having three alternating first person narratives is a little tough, especially at the beginning of the book when I was trying to get oriented. The Young Elites had one first person and then two (I think?) third person POVs and although I still didn't love it, it worked a little better for me.
    Jen @ YA Romantics

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