Nine Days

Nine Days

Title:  Nine Days

Author: Fred Hiatt

Publication: 2013, Delacorte Press

Pages: 239

Overall Rating: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Rating for Action: bth_25_zps13f4f4eb[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_25_zps13f4f4eb[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Ti-Anna’s father is a Chinese democracy activist who found asylum in the US.  But after travelling back to Hong Kong to meet with some Chinese labor activists he’s disappeared.  Ti-Anna confides her fears in her friend, Ethan, who has a long standing interest in human rights.  And Ethan makes a radical proposal – while his parents are out of town at a conference, they should buy tickets and head to Hong Kong to see if they can track down her father.  But as soon as they arrive in Hong Kong they discover that they’re under surveillance.  Her father’s trail leads them through a series of activists and eventually to Vietnam, where they will face a deadly encounter with his last contact.

Age of Main Character: 15

What I Liked the Most: This is a great trip through Hong Kong and Vietnam.  They don’t do much of the standard tourist stuff.  But from food, to ferries, to back-street hotels I felt like I’d gotten a great feel for Hong Kong and Hanoi.  Years ago, I actually spent a week in Hanoi, and I can say for a fact that Hiatt’s descriptions of the chaotic streets and the noodle shops felt right on target.

This is coupled with a great lesson in human rights and activism that came across loud and clear without ever feeling like I was being lectured.  It felt like a great intro to both the dangers, and the call the activism, in a place like China.

What I Liked the Least: Hiatt does am admirable job of putting me inside Ethan’s head and bringing his character to life.  But the character development also opened up space for some real disappointment.  Ethan professes to have a long-standing interest in China.  He reads about China all the time, which was one of the things that brought him together with Ti-Anna.  But I never felt like Hiatt took advantage of that interest.  There was no point in the book where Ethan had to draw on his knowledge of China or human rights in order to overcome a crucial obstacle and move the story forward.  So I was told about his interest, but I never saw it in action.

The story also gets off to a slow start.  They don’t actually get on the plane to Hong Kong until page 40, and a lot of the story that takes place up until then felt unnecessary – like it could have been accomplished in a few quick pages.  The first and last two or three pages of the book felt particularly unnecessary.

How Good was the Action? There was very little actual action.  Only one or two extremely brief sequences  –  until we get to page 127.  At that point, we jump into a 30 pages series of action sequences before returning to the book’s normal pace.  Those sequences are okay, but nothing outstanding, and Hiatt ruins one of them by doing too much foreshadowing.

How Engaging was the Story? As I said, the first 40 pages dragged.  But once they get on the plane to Hong Kong the story moves along at a good clip.  Ethan and Ti-Anna travel fairly quickly from Kowloon in central Hong Kong to one of the outlying islands, to Vietnam.  And I felt pulled along as they gathered one tip and then another, following her father’s trail, and all the while trying to shake their Chinese observers.  Ethan and Ti-Anna have a good rapport.  The dialogue felt a bit wooden at times, but that didn’t stop me from getting into their back and forth, and watching their friendship strengthen into something like love.

Overall Assessment: Nine Days is a solid travel novel – one that will take you from your couch and drop you halfway around the world, in the midst of a struggle between Chinese agents and democracy activists.  There’s little in the way of action, but a good relationship between the main characters and an engaging struggle to track down what happened to Ti-Anna’s father helped move the book along.  One very nice touch is that Hiatt ends the novel with a brief note from the real Ti-Anna – the Chinese girl on which this novel is based.

Profanity: None

Sex: A bit of mild flirting and a kiss.  Discussions of human trafficking and forced prostitution.

Violence: Very little.

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