From the publisher:
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…
When I originally picked up The Walled City and read the back, I assumed it was a typical (and for me, boring) YA dystopian novel set in a Chinese or Chinese-inspired futuristic setting.
Spoiler alert: it’s not.
The Walled City is beautifully written, and it explores a number of difficult themes other YA novels don’t touch or, in some cases, tend to gloss over. The book faces the ugliness of Mei Yee’s life in the brothel head-on and doesn’t gloss over anything, from the customer who “favors” her (but also beats her) to the rampant violence and drug addiction she witnesses.
The book also makes the reader look at the lives of extreme poverty that Dai and Jin face outside the brothel but still within the walls. Jin isn’t part of a street gang, and that puts her at risk, while Dai intentionally puts himself into dangerous positions with a ring of organized crime to find something that could help him.
My only real hesitation in recommending this book to other readers is the level of darkness in the book. For younger readers, depictions of Mei Yee’s life in the brothel can be overwhelmingly upsetting; older readers may find some of the depictions triggering or disturbing, such as depictions of heroin addiction or animal abuse.
For those readers who wouldn’t put it down for that reason, though, The Walled City is a beautifully-written and heart-wrenching read that sheds light on some of the ugliest parts of the world, parts that those who are lucky enough to be sheltered from should learn about.
I would definitely recommend The Walled City to most readers based on how the book addresses problems faced by teens in real life. The book is heavy, though – it took several weeks to finish reading because the topic was terribly heartbreaking. But I also feel that heaviness shows how wonderful the book is, and its exploration of difficult themes makes it a standout.
5 out of 5 stars
Feliza Casano is a fan of anime, manga, and every sort of book as well as editor in chief at Girls in Capes. She writes for all sections of the site, and she’s the one behind GiC’s Facebook and Twitter. Follow her on Twitter @FelizaCasano.