The Walled City by Ryan Graudin
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 run 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.
This book caught my attention immediately and I found myself thinking about it even when I wasn’t reading, fascinated by the world, wanting to know more about the characters. At first. Then things took a turn. I’m so disappointed that I didn’t love this book as much as I initially thought I would.
The intense action and peril that the book opens with will definitely grab you. Sadly, the narrative doesn’t maintain that pace or tension throughout, and about 30% through I found myself getting very very bored. The first thing this book had going against it was that going in I did think it was a dystopian novel. As the story progressed I got a little confused waiting for the setting and world building to be made more clear to me. But evidently this is based on an actual real live walled city. So I assume this is set now or in the not distant past when that city existed. I still think a sentence or two addressing time and place would have been all that was needed to clear that up, because I know I’m not the only one who was expecting a dystopian novel. I’m not sure if I would have picked this one up had I known it was more contemporary realism.
After the initial action, everything got very dull. Especially for people who are supposedly risking their lives on a daily basis just to get by. I found the characters to be uninteresting and unbelievable. My biggest issue was the thing between Dai and Mei Yee. That’s what ultimately killed the book for me. Mei Yee was sold into prostitution by her abusive father. She was taken to the walled city against her will to live a life of slavery. She’s not allowed to go outside and often she’s not even allowed to leave her bedroom. To say nothing of the job she is forced to do. Her life is truly horrific. And then Dai comes along, tapping at her window one day. And even though Dai is a man like any other who Mei Yee has no reason to like or trust, all she can think about after he’s gone are his eyes. And she waits and hopes that he’ll come back. Gag! I’m sorry but I find it very very VERY hard to believe that someone who has been forced to work as a prostitute in a horrible slum and has done and seen unspeakable things and suffered at the hands of many many people, as Mei Yee has, would even notice some dude’s eyes, let alone be mooning over them for days and weeks until he shows up again. She’s completely enamored with him and I find that completely ridiculous. The amount of abuse she’s suffered would have had a profound impact on her mental, physical and emotional well being, and I didn’t see that reflected in Mei Yee at all. If anything she seemed like an naive, innocent young teenager. Mei Yee’s and Dai’s relationship also begins with him using her for information and lying to her about what he can provide her in exchange. I couldn’t understand what was supposed to be so different and great about Dai when he was using her too, just in a different way. That frustrated me to the point that I couldn’t force myself through the rest of the book with the other characters that I didn’t really care about at all anyway. Jin was interesting at first but just deteriorated into Dai’s lame sidekick. Oh and incidentally, I don’t know if they changed the cover for good or what, but I LOVED the old cover they had on this until a few days ago. I’m not a fan of this newer one at all.
The good thing about this novel is it attempts to bring attention to the issue of human trafficking. I can respect and appreciate that. Even though this wasn’t my favorite book, I hope that maybe this will be an eye opener for some people. At the very least I hope they’ll take the information in the back of the book and educate themselves on the situation and how they can help.
*I received an ARC of this title from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.