The Walled City
By Ryan Graudin
ARC e-book, 448 pages (Hardcover)
2014, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 9780316405058 (Hardcover)
Expected Release Date: November 4
I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
From NetGalley: There are three rules in the Walled City [Hak Nam]: 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.
What I liked:
This book grabbed me from the start – the sense of urgency that Graudin created by opening with Jin running from a street gang pulled me right in and left me excited to find out more about this horrible city. The chapters were fairly short too, and so it made it easy to tell myself “just one more chapter” and suddenly find that I’ve read 10 chapters instead of going to bed. The chapters are also told from the first person point of view of three characters, Dai, Jin and Mei Yee, so we see different areas and aspects of Hak Nam depending on who is speaking. I couldn’t tell exactly what year this book was set in, though it did seem fairly modern, but I enjoyed the ambiguity because rather than focusing on the technology (or lack thereof) I was able to focus on the characters and their experiences. The book felt timeless, if that makes any sense.
The fast pace of the book kept me engrossed and the way the three characters wove in and out of each other’s lives helped my connecting with them. The overall writing style didn’t blow me out of the water, but I really can’t think of any flaws either. I also found it interesting that Graudin mentions in her afterword that Hak Nam is based on Hong Kong’s Kowloon Walled City.
I enjoy the simplicity of the cover style (which my ARC sadly lacks), but there’s another cover image floating around the internet, and I have to say, if I buy a physical copy of the book, I’d prefer this version:
What I didn’t like:
There was a bit of romance (some days I feel like that’s become a requirement of any YA novel and it makes me roll my eyes), but fortunately it wasn’t the focus of the novel. However, it was close to being an insta-romance, which annoyed me. The love between the two characters doesn’t develop instantly, but I consider it a microwave romance
p lease ignore how lame I am because compared to an instant development it felt like it was nuked for a few minutes, then ding! ready to serve to the readers. But really, this relationship was a small part of the plot and Graudin really wasn’t heavy-handed with it, so it’s more of a nitpick. This is a personal preference too – while I love YA I’m tired of romance being such a large focus in many novels, yet I realize that’s a big part of teenager’s lives and my taste has changed some as I’ve grown older.
I hesitate to call this book a dystopia, because it’s such a fad right now that I feel like there’s a lot of junk floating around trying to pull people in with the “teen dystopia” tagline – it also didn’t feel like a dystopia. The environment Graudin created clearly isn’t a utopia, it just didn’t have the same feel as other teen dystopias I’ve read (ie: Maze Runner, Hunger Games, Dark Eden) – rather than focusing on the world itself, I was focused on what the characters were doing. But I’ll say if you like YA dystopias or just action based YA, then you should check this out. I wouldn’t say no to reading more of Graudin’s work.