The Walled City

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
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Gritty thriller shows cost of drug trade, human trafficking.

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age 14+
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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Set in a fictional city based on Hong Kong's Kowloon district, The Walled City presents a detailed depiction of life in a crowded slum where orphaned children become gang members, vicious criminals run the drug and human trafficking trades, and young girls are forced into sexual slavery.

Positive Messages

The Walled City explores the danger and necessity of trusting other people, even when you've been hurt and betrayed by others. The novel stresses the importance of courage in the face of physical danger and of the willingness to sacrifice your own happiness for someone else's well-being. It also shows the physical and mental ravages of drug use and prostitution.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Each of the three viewpoint characters in The Walled City struggles against adversity with resourcefulness and bravery. Dai, Jin, and Mei Yee all experience terrible hardship, but each is willing to put their trust in someone else and even put him- or herself in mortal danger.


Many scenes of threatened and actual violence in The Walled City.Characters are wounded or killed with guns and knives. The villains turn a young girl into an addict by injecting her with heroin. A cat has its tail amputated. A client sexually assaults one of the prostitutes, but the scene is described obliquely.


Mei Yee has been trapped in a brothel for two years. While it's made clear how she earns money for her captor, the physical details are not provided. 


As would be realistic in such a gritty environment, The Walled City contains strong language: "bastard," "bitch," "damn," "hell," "s--t,""a--hole," and "f--k," each used two to six times each.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The villainous gang members smoke opium and drink alcohol and traffic in drugs. A young woman is injected with heroin when she attempts to leave the brothel.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Walled City is an intense thriller set in a fictional slum based on Hong Kong's Kowloon district. It presents a detailed depiction of life in a crowded slum where orphaned children become gang members, vicious criminals run the drug and human trafficking trades, and young girls are forced into sexual slavery. There are many violent scenes involving gun and knife fights, sexual assault, injections with heroin, and the amputation of a cat's tail. There's strong language ("bastard," "bitch," "damn," "hell," "s--t," "a--hole," and "f--k"), and many scenes are set in a brothel, but the physical details of prostitution are not described.

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Teen, 13 years old Written byperrytheplatypus28 December 19, 2019

Requires Maturity

The Walled City is a wonderfully constructed novel, by one of my favored authors, Ryan Graudin. It's thrilling plot is put to good use, and Graudin is a ve... Continue reading

What's the story?

Set within a crowded, twisty slum, THE WALLED CITY spotlights three teens who harbor dangerous secrets, Sold into sexual slavery by her father, Mei Lee works as exclusive concubine for a rich ambassador. Dai works as a drug runner and has 18 days to accomplish a mysterious mission before his life will be ruined forever. Jai pretends to be a tough boy, but she's really a scared young girl searching for her abducted sister. As these three young people cross paths, the stakes for each grow ever higher.

Is it any good?

The Walled City offers an intense plot with plenty of action, reversals, and insightful character development. Author Ryan Graudin does an excellent job of imagining a multi-level slum where danger can lurk around any corner. She also handles the subject of teenage sexual slavery with finesse and sensitivity.

The Walled City stumbles slightly is in the overheated prose that accompanies some of the more emotional scenes. Some of the strained metaphors could have been eliminated to streamline a novel that's already slightly too long for the story it tells.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the problem of human trafficking around the globe. What steps might be taken to wipe it out?

  • What makes a good thriller? What others have you read that you've liked? 

  • Why do teenagers join gangs? What factors drive them to commit criminal acts?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrillers

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