Book Review: The Walled City

Posted October 22, 2014 by Kara in book review, Kara / 2 Comments

Book Review: The Walled CityThe Walled City by Ryan Graudin
Published by Little Brown Books For Young Readers on 2014-11-04
Genres: historical, young adult
Pages: 448
Format: ARC
Source: BEA
Buy on Amazon

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 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.

My expectations for The Walled City were through the ROOF. Why? Well, I was going to write a book about Kowloon Walled City at one point. Not at all like this one, but I had studied and researched the setting and its inhabitants for a pretty long time, devouring websites, blogs, articles, and documentaries. There is not a lot out there, almost as if the people that used to live there want to keep the enclave’s secrets under wraps. But if it could be found, I found it. As far as I know, there weren’t ANY works of fiction that used the setting until this one. If I am wrong, let me know. I want to have it. I know it was used as a setting in a couple of movies, but I am talking about books here. Point is, I had to have this book. And if the author was as passionate about KWC as I was, I knew I would see it in her writing.

The author’s writing is…interesting. I am not sure her style is for everyone, but for the most part, it worked for me. There is an overusage of metaphors and similes that felt to be a bit much. I rather wish the author had just described things in sentences without the use of like or as. Not only that but some of them were really weird and off. I know that this was a complaint by more than a couple bloggers with her first book, All That Glows, to the point that the book was DNFed or one-starred. I didn’t find it to be that troubling in this novel. I was still able to enjoy it and love the story, but I thought I would provide you with a couple of examples so you can decide for yourself.

“My chest feels tight, like an empty cola can being crushed under someone’s knuckles.” Uhhhh…okay?

“I stare down at my toes. They remind me of the freshwater eels in the tanks of the seafood restaurants, alive but cramped, stacked on top of one another until I don’t see how there’s any room for them to move at all.”  WHATTTTTT.

“My hands are in my pockets, trembling like a dog spooked by a foghorn.” I don’t even KNOWWWWW.

“My emotions are like pounds of overcooked rice noodles. Spilling everywhere. Impossible to gather back together again.” Interesting imagery, that.

“The peroxide fizzes and foams over Jin’s cut like a rabid wolf.” NO. Just NO.

“You’re welcome. The answer sticks inside my throat like an octopus tentacle.” O_O

One more? Okay then.

“His jowls tighten, snarl like a moon-crested black bear.” Is this a World of Warcraft reference to the Druid class?

I’m not going to even lie. Some of these really made me laugh. I know they weren’t supposed to. But you know, some of the writing I actually liked. Like this:

City of Darkness. That’s what the people of Seng Ngoi call this place when they glimpse it from their penthouse apartments and high-rise offices. A black spot of slum and crime in their shining city. A better name, I think, would be City of Pain. 

City of Darkness is one of the known names for Kowloon Walled City. I think the author captured the essence of what it was like to live there so very well. I would have liked a bit more atmosphere because I DO think that readers not familiar with the setting like I am may be in the dark a LITTLE bit. So if you go into this and feel confused, look at a few pictures, maybe watch a Youtube video so you can get a feeling for what it’s like and so the writing will make more sense. I applaud the author for doing what she did, but this might just be one of those places that you need to have a visual for to understand. Nothing your brain can come up with will be enough.

Plot-wise, I loved this book. I loved the diversity, the way the history and truth was portrayed for the story. Based on what I know, I do not feel it was sensationalized at all; it really was that dangerous to live there. It was overrun by Triads, opium dens, brothels, unlicensed dentists, and all sorts of unimaginable living situations. The three characters narratives were woven together in a really suspenseful way, and I loved the way the days were counted down as it really helped to build that nail-biting tension.

What I’m a little confused by is why the author chose to make the setting fictional instead of use the real Kowloon Walled City. It was the exact same thing, only she chose to set it in what I believe is a contemporary setting, when she could have just set the book in the late 80s ( I believe the city was close to fully evacuated by 1987). I don’t really understand that decision as it didn’t seem to make a bit of difference in the story.

All in all, I thought it was a fascinating look at a piece of history not many people know about. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot because I think it’s something that should be discovered by the reader. I liked the characters quite a bit, and the antagonists were disgusting and infuriating as they should be. Trigger warning (maybe) for domestic abuse, animal violence (one scene), lots of knife violence, some gun violence, and a rape (though it’s not particularly graphic). It’s a brutal but exhilarating read. Prepare yourselves.




2 responses to “Book Review: The Walled City

  1. Senator

    I’m still struggling through this one because of its triggers. Child prostitution and forced drug addiction made my stomach forcibly lurch. She artfully puts the reader right in middle of it all which made my triggers higher, but that’s just me. Still amazing, though.

  2. xD the quotes you gave are hilarious. Specially the octopus tentacle one. That’s just ridiculous.
    Although this does sound like an interesting read
    GREAT review
    Your reader,
    Soma R.

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