Monday, 3 November 2014

The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

The Walled City
Ryan Graudin
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
[November 4, 2014]
ARC from BEA

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.....

In this innovative and adrenaline-fueled novel, they all come together in a desperate attempt to escape a lawless labyrinth before the clock runs out.

I was intrigued by this book when BEA started, but not enough to be super concerned about getting it. It was kind of a "meh" book for me. Then I went to the YA Buzz Panel, and this book was talked up in a way that had me super excited. I braved the mob scene that attacked the ARC tables to get a copy. My excitement grew as time passed and more friends read it and loved it. I was SO READY for this book.

And I was kinda disappointed.

One of the most interesting aspects to me was the world itself. It sounds so fascinating and surreal but it also WAS real. It's amazing to think about. And the way the book started out really hooked me in...and then, eventually, it becomes clear that this is technically a contemporary. Obviously, I love my contemporary books, but it made it less exciting and thrilling to know that a perfectly normal, safe world was so close. And the characters could turn to that world. I would've much rather preferred it be a dystopian or sci-fi or just an alternate reality where there wasn't that safety net.

The characters themselves were all interesting and likable. They had different back stories, even Jin and her sister had these different scars from growing up. But there was something lacking in them, for me. I can't put a finger on what it was, but I wanted more from them. More darkness? More moral tension? Richer back stories? Maybe all three. I found myself more interested in some of the more questionable side characters, wondering what their stories were.

The plot was kind of predictable. There were definitely surprising elements thrown in to make it more interesting, but the overall arc was something kinda clear from the beginning pages. I was hoping to see it take a twist, be something I couldn't predict, but it never came. I guess it goes with me wanting the story to have been darker, rather than wrapped up relatively simply. I appreciated those elements that would be thrown in, but I wanted to be more surprised by the ending.

The writing was gripping though. Ryan Graudin knows how to tell a damn good story. I was always excited for my subway rides when I could read more. She manipulated the time and the perspectives to best keep me hanging on every page, especially near the end, which I flew through. And I did love the set up for how the story was told.

And there were other elements I liked. There was this consideration of freedom and human trafficking, as well as a really great portrayal of a variety of female characters - again, something I wish I could've seen more of. Very complex, interesting relationships and political arrangements. Some themes that were fascinating.

While there were some great elements to THE WALLED CITY, I was mostly bored. It all felt kind of simplified. I don't think there was an intent to talk down to a younger audience, but I do wonder how this book would've been different if it were marketed as adult. I wanted something darker and more complex and tense, less predictable. And I think knowing more clearly that it was contemporary from the beginning would've made it more interesting to me, since that kind of annoyed me. 

This was all very much a ME thing though. I expected and wanted different things from this book than what it provided. Other people going in without those wants and hopes have enjoyed it way more. But for me, this was kinda forgettable, though I do look forward to checking out Ryan Graudin's other books.

--Julie

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