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The Walled City


The Walled City

“That’s my Plan B. There is no Plan C.” 

Ryan Graudin’s THE WALLED CITY is a three-POV story about one boy and two girls trying to escape their lives in the fictional but not-so-fictional Hak Nam. The place itself is a “lawless labyrinth,” a city of nightmares and smarmy criminals and brothels, surrounded by the City Beyond, Seng Ngoi. The setting is well-developed and intense; from the first sentence a feeling of despair and dismay descended over me before I could fully comprehend why. 

The characters --- Dai, Jin and Mei Yee --- have distinct stories and personalities but not completely distinct voices. As Dai on the streets says, “trouble latche[s] onto [him] like a magnet." Jin used to work on a rice farm and is looking for her sister. Mei Yee is enslaved in a brothel, watching her friends fail to escape and get beaten as a result. Though I knew who was talking at the time, I found myself sometimes forgetting what was happening and who was referring to whom. The choice of narrative feels almost like the Hunger Games, with its delicate fragmented and short sentences, and just didn’t feel right to me for this story. I myself would have preferred the first-person narrative being used for just one character rather than all of them. I think it would have been very nice if we could see one or two characters approached with a third-person perspective. 

I also didn’t like some of the description in THE WALLED CITY. Graudin writes beautifully and artistically, but much of the description just isn’t necessary, like when Jin beautifully describes names on placards and even a tray is described as a “black” and “lacquered.” I can see the style being interpreted as either profound or excessively flowery --- I thought it was both.


There is something very raw and very honest about this story. 

While there is no doubt that this book is a labor of love, I do wish I could have felt more of the adrenaline and excitement I’m sure many other readers might have felt. Mostly I felt tired and anxious, even bored. Personally, I found the plot extremely slow and the ending didn’t suit my taste.

However, I can see why someone would love this book. The suffering of the characters evokes sympathy and the culture of the world is rich. That being said, this is not a story for the beach or a weekend road trip. It is full of sadness and compassion and humanity. How could this happen in Graudin’s story, and why did it happen in real life?

I felt myself not wanting to continue at times, putting off reading further because I didn’t want to be confronted with this ugly side of human nature and history and the way it was presented so openly. Because it’s hard to read about blood and running and characters saying “my restless body is twitching” and many paragraphs describing “layers of mortar and filth.” It will make you angry. It will also make you hopeful and sad. There is something very raw and very honest about this story. Graudin’s Author Note states that this was based on the Kowloon Walled City, and some of the problems faced by the characters, especially Mei Yee, are undoubtedly real. 

I recommend THE WALLED CITY to fans of history, and also think it would make an interesting movie.

Reviewed by Thien-Kim H., Teen Board Member on January 8, 2015

The Walled City
by Ryan Graudin

  • Publication Date: September 8, 2015
  • Genres: Thriller
  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 031640506X
  • ISBN-13: 9780316405065