Desperation and savagery are the calling cards of the alleyways of the Walled City, known as Hak Nam, and based on the real-life Kowloon City of Hong Kong.
"Run fast. Trust no one. Always carry your knife."
The Walled City is a place where thousands of human beings live like animals on top of one another as gangs rule and rage, drugs dull and kill, and desperation is king. In this human sewage pit, a young girl, Jin Ling, disguised as a boy, is searching for her sister.
A boy, Dai, waits in the shadows, watching and serving his time, as he obeys the authorities who are using him to go after the ruling gang leader/drug lord. Ghosts of Dai's past hold his soul in a prison and there is no way he can return to his home, his family and his privileged life as long as the authorities hold the warrant for his arrest. More than anything he is searching the streets of Hak Nam for redemption.
In a heroin soaked brothel a young girl, Mei Yee, having been sold into prostitution by her alcoholic father, has seen a lifetime of bruises and now is held in her cage offered up to a powerful man, Ambassador Osamu, for his personal satisfaction.
Jin Ling agrees to be a runner teaming with Dai and in the service of Longhai, the drug lord. Jin can run fast and has become street smart since her father sold her beloved sister. With her hair cut off she masquerades as a boy but when she steals the boots of a street punk, Kuen, she has made an enemy who will hunt her down.
The streets of the Walled City ring with the sounds of boys armed with knives and driven by the need to survive. Knives slash, trust shatters, and Dai has eighteen days to carry out the mission that will either see him dead or lift him out of the carnage and chaos.
Among these desperate and courageous young people, hope and goodness are not forgotten. The value of a life is small. Broken noses, slashed arms, the bruised wrists of white-skinned young girls are the daily custom. Those who fight against the powerful, those who hold hope and give their all to escape their bondage, lose more than they could have ever imagined possible.
The story is told from the three points of view leaving us over and over with cliffhangers and mounting tension. Even though the three are living in the most degrading circumstances, there is an underlying sense that there is goodness waiting inside them, just searching for another world they can escape to for a life where things make sense and their humanity is valued.
Get ready for an intense, gutsy, down-to-the-bone, non-stop adventure. Get ready to see pictures painted of human beings at their lowest common denominator. For many simply staying alive is enough. The heartbeat of hope pounds in the darkest of times. Riveting. Gripping. This is an astounding debut.
978-0316405058 412 pages Ages 14 and up (violence, prostitution, language)
Recommended by: Barb, abookandahug.com
Editor's Note: This setting of this story is based on Kowloon, a modern day hidden city in Hong Kong.
(Personally I've begun picking up some of these YA books with the edgy, foreboding covers with a bit of cynical trepidation. How dark are we going to go this time? How dystopian is this world going to be? What a tremendous relief followed by delight and great respect as I read THE WALLED CITY. Characters are compelling and the desperation all too real even in our own times. But as tough as life gets, these young people hold onto hope and that's a message that needs to be sent out time and time again. No matter how bad you have it and no matter how hopeless it might seem, you have something inside of you that will prevail.)