The Walled City by Ryan Graudin
Goodreads Description: 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.....
My Review: The Walled City starts off by introducing us to our three main characters, Jin, Dai, and Mei Yee. Their first person POV chapters gives the reader a full view of the Walled City of Hak Nam. Though it's a dark book with a lot of edgy content, including human trafficking, forced drug torture, and prostitution, the underlying hope each character carries within them keeps it from feeling overwhelmingly depressing. Each character is exceedingly well crafted and their personalities shine through in a myriad of ways. Each one had motivations, dreams and a history that intersected perfectly and gave them sympathetic reasons for being in such a horrible city.
Aside from the character development, the other strength of this book is the author's ability to build tension and suspense. Though information is withheld from the reader about certain characters, it's not done in a way that feels annoying or intrusive to the story. As well, the three alternative POVs allows the reader to be privy to information that the characters haven't realized yet-- that Mei Yee is Jin's sister, that Dai is the strange boy Mei Yee sees in the window-- these little things leaves the reader-- or at least me-- squealing and bouncing in my seat, eager to see how the reveal will come, not to me, but to the characters.
The sense of place is incredibly strong within The Walled City. The city is based off a city that once existed in Hong Kong, but had since been torn down. Ryan Graudin creates an incredible setting by detailing the places and people who dwell within. Graudin keeps true to the Chinese history and keeps the culture rich within her own Walled City. The diversity was delightful to see, especially because the level of detail made me feel like I was standing in those cramped, dark streets.
Speaking of detail, the writing in this book is absolutely gorgeous. It flows and flowers without being overbearing, which I found to be absolutely delightful. The level of symbolism and metaphor as well is heavy and very well done-- from the dying flowers in Mei Yee's hotel room to the seashell and ocean representing her freedom-- the pages are lined with the type of writing that makes me heart sing.
I adored this book from start to finish. It drew me in and made me fall in love. At no point did I find something that annoyed me or I didn't enjoy, and at the end I shed a tear, not because the ending was sad, but because it was so good and I was happy with how things resolved.
If you want a beautiful story filled with rich Chinese culture, I suggest you pick this up. If you're worried about it too dark, don't let that stop you. The heart of the story keeps it hopeful.
TL;DR: 5/5 stars. So. Freaking. Beautiful.