Author Guest Post: Identity in The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

Author Guest Post, Identity, Recommendations

I’ve been discussing the idea of IDENTITY and DIVERSITY with pupils in library lessons. When I saw The Walled City I knew it would fit beautifully with these themes making the ideas more accessible to the students. Huge thanks to Ryan for taking the time to right such a fantastic post developing those themes.

Received from Publisher

I’m not a good person. If people need proof, I’ll show them my scar, tell them my body count.” These are the very first lines that introduce us to Sun Dai Shing, an eighteen year old boy who is trapped in the Hak Nam Walled City, which he describes as “a recipe of humanity’s darkest ingredients—thieves, murderers, addicts—all mashed into six and a half acres of land. A place even the sunlight is too pure to enter.” From the start, Dai tries to tell the reader who to perceive him, though it soon becomes obvious that he’s not as evil as he tries to convince the world he is. He cites many minor incidents from his past—“I pounded through life at volume eleven, leaving a trail of broken things: vases, noses, cars, hearts, brain cells”—and hints at even larger ones.
Jin Ling spends her days and nights in the Walled City hiding her true identity. She lives on the streets and must disguise herself as a boy to stay safe. But as her chapters roll on, we find out that, even as a child, Jin Ling saw herself this way: “Whenever our mother wound my hair back into a bun and sent me to the pond for wash water, I saw a boy’s face staring back at me.” She did all of the boy’s work on the farm and strove to protect her mother and sister from her father’s drunken rages.
For her entire life Mei Yee has been told she was beautiful. Even her name—Mei Yee, refreshing beauty—speaks to this. It’s one of the reasons her father sold her to Longwai’s brothel, and one of the reasons her “client” Ambassador Osamu pays an exorbitant amount of money for her exclusivity. Mei Yee has learned to associate beauty with passivity, and just as her sister Jin Ling used to long to be pretty, Mei Yee longs to have the courage to be strong.
As THE WALLED CITY progresses, each of these characters discovers that their sources of identity, the identities that had been assigned to them by past circumstances, are something that hinder them. In order to survive and thrive, each one of them must push past the definition of who they thought they were. Dai must overcome his idea that he is (as he says in his own words) a “selfish bastard,” Jin Ling is forced to see herself as beautiful and Mei Yee must plunge into the deepest parts of herself to find courage. By the end of the novel, none of these characters are who they thought they were, because they chose to ignore the labels their past put on them.
Received from Publisher

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.

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