Tension begins with the three rules of survival in the first paragraph of The Walled City by Ryan Graudin and builds relentlessly until the very end. “Run fast. Trust no one. Always carry your knife.” Based on the now demolished walled city of Kowloon, Hong Kong, the gripping story rings true.
Three young people caught in the midst of human trafficking and drug dealing look for a way out of the walled city and the circumstances of their lives. Mei Lei, sold by her father into a brothel where she has been locked up and used for two years, appears to have no hope for anything better. Jin, her spunky younger sister, passes for a boy with swift legs in a hard scrabble existence among the homeless trying to keep herself safe while never losing hope of finding Mei Lei. She will leave the problem of where they will go when she finds her sister in the back of her mind until later. Returning home is not an option since her father would only sell Mei Lei again. Dai, hiding secrets from his past, traffics drugs from the drug lord and looks for a way to his own freedom and to redemption from the guilt he carries.
The calendar turns, beginning at 18 Days. The time belongs to Dai who has been trapped for seven hundred and thirty days with eighteen left to work his risky plan. He needs someone who can run fast. To be sure the reader does not relax, occasional page breaks mark the time 16 Days . . . 14 Days . . . 9 Days . . . 6 Days . . . 1 Day.
While the book is fiction and the time is long ago, it brings awareness to real problems that have not gone away since drug dealers and human traffickers are still in business. The author includes the drugs, violence, and prostitution that are necessary to the story but not in a gratuitous or sensational way. I recommend the book to those on the upper end of the 12 – 17 year old group for which it was written and for those who want a compassionate look at how and why young people, and those not so young, get trapped into this lifestyle.